Sprint to launch commercial 5G in 4 U.S. cities in May

Sprint's home city of Kansas City will be one of the first to get 5G. (Getty Images)

BARCELONA—Sprint will bring standards-based 5G with commercial services to four cities in May, company executives announced at today’s MWC 2019 event. The first cities are Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City. The company also said five other cities are slated to launch in the first half of 2019: Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

The 5G coverage in these cities ranges from less than 30 square miles in Manhattan to about 230 square miles in the Dallas Fort Worth area, for a total initial 5G coverage footprint of more than 1,000 square miles across all nine cities.

At a media event with journalists, Sprint CEO Michel Combes said Sprint’s 5G would be the first mobile 5G network in the United States, stressing the broad coverage in its chosen cities, because both AT&T and Verizon have launched their own versions of 5G, and they’ve taken a lot of heat for their marketing spins.

"Wireless customers are soon going to have their first mobile 5G experience with Sprint, and it won’t be limited to their home or a millimeter wave hotspot," said Sprint CTO John Saw in a prepared statement. And Combes told reporters, “It’s not just for five customers, it’s for millions of customers.”

Sprint is currently testing its 5G in downtown Chicago where the company is optimizing its standards-based 5G software and hardware using Massive MIMO radios from Samsung Electronics, using 2.5 GHz.

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In terms of 5G devices, Sprint unveiled its first 5G smartphone, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, which is made by LG Electronics. And this summer, Sprint customers will also be able to use the 5G network with the new Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone.

The carrier also announced a 5G mobile smart hub, the HTC 5G Hub. The device enables 4K video streaming and mobile gaming serving up to 20 users as a 5G mobile hotspot.

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The company says Massive MIMO forms the foundation of its 5G network with hundreds of Massive MIMO radios deployed. Saw referred to the equipment as the company’s “secret weapon,” and he said its software is upgradable to 5G.

Its Massive MIMO radios from Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung also support split-mode, enabling the company to offer LTE and 5G simultaneously. Saw said split-mode allows Sprint to use the same hardware and “kill two birds with one stone.” And he emphasized that this split-mode technique could not be done with millimeter wave (mmWave).

“There’s more than one way to build a 5G network,” he said, again taking a jab at AT&T and Verizon. “Some 5G networks are built by the marketing department.”

Asked about its merger with T-Mobile, company executives at the media briefing stuck to their talking points. Combes said the combination of T-Mobile and Sprint would allow the companies to  “build the best nationwide 5G network” and “provide huge benefits to our customers.”