As Sprint launched commercial mobile 5G service in New York City on Tuesday, executives indicated they weren’t concerned about the slightly delayed rollout that had previously been expected by mid-2019.
Sprint CEO Michel Combes, speaking in NY at a 5G launch event today, said he’s “very proud” with what the team has accomplished, noting the carrier has the biggest 5G footprint among all of its competitors.
Sprint said its 5G service will cover about 1.7 million people in New York City, and about 11 million total for its nine 5G launch cities across the country. Those include Tuesday’s rollouts in Los Angles, Washington, D.C, and Phoenix, as well as previous launches in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City.
“What we want is to deliver the best experience for our customers,” said Combes, noting that whether that means launching one or a few weeks later than originally anticipated “doesn’t really change anything” in terms of what Sprint is working to achieve.
Sprint CTO John Saw said hindsight is always 2020, referring to the carrier’s original mid-2019 timeline for nine 5G cities that it first announced at MWC Barcelona earlier this year.
“The announcement in Barcelona was the easiest part,” Saw joked. He said that Sprint’s work alongside vendors and device makers, including Nokia who is providing equipment for the four 5G cities launched yesterday, has been pioneering.
Sprint is using Nokia gear and 5G Massive MIMO radios that support split-mode, enabling the carrier to simultaneously deliver LTE Advanced and 5G NR service.
Other outlets including Light Reading had reported that Sprint’s four most recent 5G cities were behind schedule because of software delays on RAN vendor Nokia’s end.
Sprint is upgrading existing LTE sites to support 5G, so Saw noted site construction wasn’t difficult, but ensuring the 5G service worked “really well” was, including work on the carrier's dual-mode technology, as well as E-UTRAN New Radio (ENDC), which allows devices to access both LTE and 5G at the same time. He added that Sprint’s nine 5G markets are the carrier’s largest in terms of LTE usage, so Sprint wants to ensure users don’t have a faulty LTE experience either.
Ricky Corker, president of customer operations for America at Nokia, said that New York City is one of the most difficult RAN networks to build because it’s so dense, but called it a feat to get hundreds of megabits per second on the streets in New York.
Testing Sprint 5G in NYC
Sprint also announced its latest 5G device, the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G, which FierceWireless was able to take out on to the street and run real-world tests. Take into consideration this was not extensive testing, and it was only day one of Sprint’s commercial launch in NYC.
One major point Sprint executives stressed about the 5G service, which uses 64T/64R 5G Massive MIMO radios in New York like other cities, is the ability to find signal. That has been a common theme, as Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum for 5G is known to have better propagation characteristics, meaning more widespread coverage Though speeds won’t match those seen on 5G networks using millimeter wave spectrum, finding a 5G connection seems to be pretty easy.
From FierceWireless’ own modest tests, that was certainly true. While speeds varied and some came in below 100 Mbps, it was easy to find and keep a 5G connection while walking several blocks on busy streets at lunchtime in mid-town Manhattan.
During the presentation, executives said Sprint’s 5G service was delivering 149 Mbps average download speeds in NYC’s East Village and peak speeds of 407 Mbps.
None of FierceWireless’ tests hit those peak speeds, but walking around various areas in the East Village, including Astor Place, produced a number of results north of 100 Mbps. The fastest we saw was 237 Mbps (still well above LTE speeds) in Tompkins Square Park.
Testing out Sprint's live 5G network at Tompkins Square Park and Astor Place in New York's East Village. (Bevin Fletcher/FierceWireless)
Others appeared to have even better results, with Ookla’s Milan Milanovic tweeting speed test results consistently in the 500-600 Mbps range.
During the presentation, Saw said Sprint is seeing 5G subscribers spend three times the amount of time on their devices, and using five times more data. He pointed to mobile experiences like downloading the popular game Fornite, which he said was possible in one minute over 5G, compared to 8 minutes on LTE.
FierceWireless was able to download another comparably large game on, PUBG Mobile, on the OnePlus device, which took roughly just four minutes to download over Sprint’s 5G. It took 25 seconds to download an hour-long episode of the Netflix series Mindhunter.
Mobile gaming is a 5G avenue Sprint has taken an interest in. Starting Wednesday, the streaming cloud gaming app Hatch will be preloaded on Sprint 5G smartphones and customers will get a free three-month premium subscription.
"With the availability of Hatch on Sprint 5G smartphones, gaming on True Mobile 5G really comes alive," said Bryan Fries, vice president, 5G strategy, in a statement. "Sprint 5G customers will be able to play games instantly without having to wait to download or update games – a true breakthrough in the mobile universe."