Sprint plans to launch its 5G network this May, starting in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City. 5G service is also supposed to come to Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and Washington, DC in the first half of the year.
Like most of the just-months-away 5G network launches, details are surprisingly slim around Sprint’s plans. The company declined to state what its 5G service plans would look like, and it was vague about what kind of speeds to expect.
Asked about speeds on a call this morning, Sprint chief technology officer John Saw said that, in one demo video the company ran today, someone was shown getting 430 Mbps — about 10x what you might receive on LTE today. Saw caveated, though, saying, “We don’t really want to focus too much on speeds, but the experience.”
Sprint also said that its 5G network will be part of Google Fi, Google’s wireless carrier that piggybacks on the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile. It wasn’t stated when Google Fi would begin offering a 5G-compatible phone, though. And in fact, Sprint’s marketing chief indicated that early Sprint 5G phones might not be compatible across networks, potentially complicating the situation for Google.
There’ll be a critical difference between Sprint’s 5G network and other 5G networks. Sprint isn’t launching super-fast millimeter wave coverage like its competitors, since it doesn’t own licenses on the wireless airwaves to support it.
Instead, Sprint’s 5G network will launch using the carrier’s mid-band spectrum, which is faster than LTE airwaves, but doesn’t travel as far (and conversely, it’s slower than millimeter waves, but travels farther). Sprint also says it’ll also rely on “massive MIMO” to improve its 5G network’s capacity.
Sprint’s first 5G phone will be LG’s V50 ThinQ 5G. It’ll also get Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G (though not until after Verizon), and Sprint will launch a 5G hotspot from HTC “this spring.” Its network will use the industry-standard 5G protocol.
On a call, Sprint CEO Michel Combes said that merging with T-Mobile would allow Sprint’s 5G network to be deployed faster and offer broader coverage. But he avoided a question about whether the network wouldn’t be able to reach nationwide without T-Mobile’s help, and instead said the merger would speed up the US’s migration to 5G.
“It’s obvious that by merging the two companies you get the full benefits in terms of accelerating deployment and coverage of network,” Combes said. Earlier, he said the merger would “supercharge our 5G strategy.”
Sprint says its 5G network is currently being tested in downtown Chicago. It also gave some limited details about availability within cities once it launches. In New York, Sprint promises coverage in Midtown and lower Manhattan; in Dallas, Sprint says it’ll cover 230 square miles of the Dallas Fort Worth area. In total, Sprint says it’ll cover more than 1,000 square miles across its initial nine cities.