The Windy City just became home to Sprint’s latest 5G launch, where it’s promising blazing fast download speeds for about 700,000 people. The operator already offers 5G in parts of Atlanta, Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston and Kansas City.
It’s entering Chicago after Verizon launched its version of 5G earlier this year, but Sprint is promising a larger coverage area. Verizon is using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, whereas Sprint is using its 2.5 GHz spectrum—which years ago was considered high on the spectrum range but is now widely considered mid-band spectrum. Sprint is in the rare situation of being the holder of the most mid-band spectrum for 5G, something the rest of the industry has been busily trying to obtain.
“We’re proud to give customers across the heart of Chicago their first truly mobile 5G experience,” said Sprint CEO Michel Combes in a press release. “We’re also excited about the tremendous opportunity for growth and innovation that Sprint 5G will bring across a wide range of industries including energy, healthcare, manufacturing, finance, insurance, transportation, hospitality and more.”
Sprint is claiming another feather in its cap: the use of Massive MIMO, which dramatically improves network capacity. In Chicago, Sprint is using 64T64R (64 transmitters 64 receivers) 5G Massive MIMO radios from Samsung Networks. These radios support a feature called split-mode that enables Sprint to simultaneously deliver LTE Advanced and 5G New Radio (NR) service.
The Massive MIMO radios run on its 2.5 GHz spectrum and are deployed on Sprint’s existing 4G cell sites, providing a nearly identical footprint for both 2.5 GHz LTE and 5G NR coverage.
Samsung, an emerging player in the U.S. wireless infrastructure market compared with long-time incumbents Nokia and Ericsson, was proud to point out its role in the launch.
“Today in Chicago, we are excited to be supporting Sprint as they deliver 5G service to the people of this city,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, executive vice president and head of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics, in a statement. “Samsung’s innovative 5G Massive MIMO solutions are a driving force behind the successful launch of Sprint’s 5G mobile service, and the companies continue to join in pushing beyond the limits of legacy technologies to create new value across industries.”
The inventor credited with originating Massive MIMO technology, Thomas Marzetta, told FierceWirelessTech back in April that it’s gratifying to hear people like Sprint CTO John Saw talk about how they’re actually making Massive MIMO work and seeing the results in the field. Sprint has a lot of TDD spectrum, which Marzetta said is enormously advantageous for doing Massive MIMO.
Here’s where Sprint says its 5G is available in Chicago: The historic IL-64 in the north to Stevenson Expressway in the south, and as far as California Avenue in the west to the periphery of Lake Michigan in the east. It covers destinations such as Magnificent Mile, River North, Millennium Park, River Front, The Loop and Grant Park, as well as the neighborhoods of Gold Coast, Old Town, West Loop, Ukrainian Village, Medical Village, University of Illinois at Chicago, South Loop and more.
Sprint is offering three devices: the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, HTC 5G Hub and the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. The devices are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platform using the Snapdragon X50 5G modems. The devices will be available in select Chicago retail stores starting July 12.
Lori Ames, vice president of Sprint’s network division, told the Chicago Tribune that Sprint’s 5G network isn’t as fast as Verizon’s can be, but it’s still 10 times faster than what customers are used to with 4G.
In a check on a street corner on Thursday using Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phones, CNET found that Verizon's mmWave was much faster, hitting a download speed of 713 Mbps compared with Sprint's 123 Mbps, but Sprint's 5G network coverage along the way there was much better.
The Tribune noted that AT&T plans to turn on parts of its Chicago network later this year, with T-Mobile aiming for 2020.
Sprint, whose proposed tie-up with T-Mobile remains in limbo, expects to launch 5G service in areas of Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks. The company said its 5G network will cover about 2,100 square miles and 11 million people across nine market areas, giving it the largest initial 5G coverage footprint in the U.S.