Sprint eyes 5G commercial launches ‘in coming weeks’

Chicago is among the first cities expected to launch with Sprint's 5G service. (Pixabay)

Sprint isn’t revealing exactly when it will happen, but it’s busy getting ready to launch commercial 5G service in four markets “in the coming weeks.”

The company reiterated its plans when announcing its 2018 fiscal fourth quarter and full-year results on Tuesday. Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City are expected to be among the first cities to offer commercial 5G service from Sprint, and the company even suggested it may have a larger initial 5G footprint at launch than Verizon or AT&T.

Sprint CTO John Saw said during the earnings conference call that the company isn’t naming any other markets beyond the nine it has announced. The other five--Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.--are scheduled to launch by the end of June, and the total initial 5G coverage footprint across all nine cities is expected to be more than 1,000 square miles.

“I think the path forward is to continue to invest in 2.5 GHz spectrum but in a different form factor,” Saw said during the Q&A portion of the call. Massive MIMO technology has shown to perform really well in the field so far, and “I can see us continuing to invest in Massive MIMO technology, rolling out more and more 2.5.”   

With Massive MIMO and the spectrum depth that Sprint has with 2.5 GHz, “we can simultaneously support both LTE and 5G, so it’s like killing two birds with one stone. I can see us moving forward to continue to invest in Massive MIMO,” he said.

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Sprint now has 2.5 GHz spectrum deployed on about 80% of its macro sites compared with 60% a year ago. It also has about 30,000 outdoor small cells deployed, including both mini macros and strand mounts, and it has deployed about 1,500 Massive MIMO radios. The Massive MIMO radios are increasing the speed and capacity of LTE, and they can be upgraded to mobile 5G via a software update.

During Google’s annual developer festival at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, this week, Sprint used Ericsson 5G Massive MIMO radios to deliver over-the-air dual-connectivity with 60 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum on LTE and 40 MHz of 2.5 GHz on 5G New Radio. Demonstrations included YouTube 4K video streaming, gaming, and augmented reality using the LG V50 ThinQ 5G.

The company has said it will be offering standards-based 5G devices from LG, HTC and Samsung.