Sprint today turned on its first 5G service in four markets: Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Kansas City. And people will actually be able to use the network tomorrow when the first 5G devices are available via Sprint stores. Those devices are the LG v50 ThinQ 5G and the HTC 5G Hub.
In a conference call with media, Sprint CEO Michel Combes said he was “happy to launch today true mobile 5G with the largest initial coverage in the U.S.” Sprint executives have previously taken jabs at AT&T and Verizon for rolling out what they consider bogus 5G limited to small pockets of coverage.
For its part, Sprint will turn up 5G in five more markets by the end of June: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. Across the total of nine markets, Sprint expects to cover about 2,180 square miles and 11.5 million people. Later this summer, Sprint will add the Samsung Galaxy S10 to its 5G device options.
Sprint is offering 5G at no additional charge as part of its Unlimited Premium plan.
For its 5G network Sprint has deployed Massive MIMO radios from Ericsson, which use 64 transmitters/64 receivers. The radios run on Sprint’s 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum, and they support split-mode, enabling Sprint to simultaneously deliver LTE Advanced and 5G NR service. The radios are deployed on Sprint's existing 4G cell sites, providing a nearly identical footprint for both 2.5 GHz LTE and 5G NR coverage.
Sprint CTO John Saw, said, “Our 5G build has gone on surprisingly smoothly to the point of turning up more coverage and POPs covered than we originally anticipated. The way we built our 5G is fairly simple, upgrading existing Sprint towers using technology called Massive MIMO, which allows us to support LTE and 5G simultaneously with the same hardware. We don’t have to build small cells with the initial launch.”
He said the company has not run into any “extra difficult jurisdictional challenges.”
Sprint has the luxury of 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum, allowing it to use the split-mode technology. Other carriers, such as Verizon, have been talking about using dynamic spectrum sharing, which is a new concept where a carrier would use the same spectrum band for LTE and 5G at the same time.
“We have a lot of mid-band spectrum at 2.5 GHz,” said Saw. “We are able to do better than dynamic spectrum sharing. We are dedicating spectrum to LTE and dedicating separate spectrum for 5G, no spectrum sharing in our case.”
For 5G, Sprint is using up to 120 MHz: 60 MHz for LTE and from 40-60 MHz on the 5G NR side at launch.
At a demonstration of its new 5G network in Dallas this morning, speed tests delivered 100 Mbps on the low-end with peak speeds up to 1 Gbps. “You should see 5G speeds about five times above LTE,” said Saw.
Sprint’s 5G network is also using a new technology called E-UTRAN New Radio (ENDC), which allows devices to access both LTE and 5G simultaneously on the same spectrum band. In Sprint’s network, that will be Band 41 in the 2.5 GHz spectrum.
Saw said, “ENDC is dual connectivity where we actually connect the traffic from LTE and 5G NR together on the phone. Dual connect is working on our phones and on our network. Customers will get the benefit of capacity from both an LTE network as well as a 5G network. I believe we are one of the first to have dual connectivity working simultaneously across LTE advanced and 5G NR.”