Sprint and device vendor HTC announced they will sell a “5G mobile smart hub” in the first half of next year in conjunction with Sprint’s planned launch of 5G network services in nine cities.
However, the companies didn’t disclose any other details about the device, such as what kinds of services it would offer or how much it would cost.
“The device name, feature specifications, and timing will be shared at a later date,” the companies said in a release.
In its release announcing the gadget, Sprint did promise that it would provide “multimedia and connected data capabilities in a compact and portable design,” and the company’s CTO, John Saw, said that “this innovative product will allow customers on the go, at work or at home to enjoy Sprint 5G on multiple devices with incredibly fast connectivity for content sharing, mobile gaming, entertainment and so much more."
Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that the gadget will likely be similar to the Wi-Fi hotspot that AT&T has promised to release later this year: AT&T’s Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot will connect nearby devices like tablets, laptops and phones to a 5G signal through Wi-Fi.
But Sprint’s “hub” nomenclature could imply additional features, or at least a slightly different intention, than a portable Wi-Fi hotspot—a device that’s relatively commonplace in the wireless industry. Indeed, “hubs” are often associated with smart home functions and in-home entertainment, thus potentially positioning Sprint’s forthcoming 5G device as something that could power not only nearby tablets and phones but also potentially TVs and connected home gadgets.
There is precedent for such a tactic: T-Mobile has promised that, if it is ultimately allowed to merge with Sprint, the company will launch an in-home broadband service that will compete directly with wired ISPs like Charter and Comcast.
Already, Verizon is using 5G technology for exactly this kind of offering: Verizon’s 5G Home service, available in four cities, costs $50 for existing Verizon mobile customers and beams stationary high-speed internet services into users’ homes and offices.
To be clear, though, Sprint executives have said repeatedly that the company is not planning to target the market for fixed wireless internet services, services that essentially seek to replace wired internet services.
Nonetheless, Sprint’s “hub” device raises questions as to the company’s plans for 5G beyond smartphones.
It’s worth noting that Sprint has already announced its first 5G smartphone, a gadget the company plans to start selling next year with LG.