May 31, 2019
Ryan Whitwam

Sprint Rolls Out its 5G Network in Four Cities

Sprint and T-Mobile are busy trying to convince government regulators to let them merge into a single mega-carrier, but Sprint hasn’t completely stopped working on its network. The fourth-place carrier has announced the launch of its 5G network in a handful of cities, and its first 5G devices will launch starting tomorrow. While Sprint is late to the game compared to Verizon and AT&T, its 5G network already covers more people than the other carriers combined.

No carrier is remotely close to a nationwide 5G network, but Sprint is claiming better coverage in its initial launch than the bigger carriers. As of today, Sprint’s 5G service is live in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City. It’s not that Sprint has more markets live than AT&T or Verizon, but it’s launching 5G in a different frequency band.

AT&T and Verizon have both started their 5G rollouts with so-called millimeter wave frequencies. These signals are much higher than LTE at around 28-30 GHz. The high frequency means they can transmit a lot of data, but they don’t pass through obstacles like walls or your hand. That makes millimeter wave 5G heavily dependent on line-of-sight.

Sprint is starting its 5G push around 2.5GHz, which is a band it has used for LTE deployments in the past. The carrier has a considerable chunk of this spectrum nationwide, allowing it to cover many more people. The lower frequency 5G (sometimes called sub-6) can’t hit multi-gigabit speeds like millimeter wave, but it can pass through walls and propagate much farther from the antenna. Sprint says speeds on 2.5GHz 5G should be in the hundreds of megabits per second.

A 5G millimeter wave cell site in Minneapolis on a light pole.

Sprint is using what it calls “split-mode” on its 5G devices, which allows them to combine the LTE and 5G signals to speed up downloads. It says millions of people in the supported cities will have meaningful access to 5G thanks to its network technologies. Or at least, they’ll have theoretical access to 5G. There are only two 5G devices right now.

Starting tomorrow, Sprint will sell the LG V50 ThinQ and HTC 5G Hub in 5G markets. The V50 is a standard LG smartphone using a Snapdragon 855 chip coupled with an X50 5G modem. The HTC Hub is like a fancy hotspot for your home or office to which you can connect devices over WiFi. Sprint will begin selling the Galaxy S10 5G later this summer as well.

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