Sprint may soon merge with T-Mobile, but the company is hardly holding back its 5G rollout. The next generation of cellular connectivity already launched to Sprint subscribers, and there a few devices you can buy that support it.
But wait, what is 5G, anyway? The fifth generation of wireless networks, or 5G, has been nearly a decade in the making, and it’s finally becoming a reality. Promising dramatically faster speeds, instantaneous communication, and the ability to network everything, 5G has incredible potential. Limited rollout of the service began in select cities in 2018, and mobile 5G has started appearing in cities around the U.S. in 2019, with much more comprehensive launches expected in 2020. For its part, Sprint’s 5G is here, with the company promising connectivity in nine markets by the end of the first half of 2019. Those markets include some of the largest cities in the country.
Here’s everything you need to know about Sprint’s 5G rollout.
Sprint has officially begun rolling out its 5G network. The first cities to get the new tech — Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, and Kansas City — began enjoying 5G’s blistering speeds as of May 30. Shortly after, Sprint announced that it had turned on its 5G network in Chicago, extending coverage to around 700,000 people. Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, and the District of Columbia are likely to follow soon after, though we don’t have any dates for those launches yet. If you’re in one of the areas that already has 5G, you’ll need Sprint’s Unlimited Premium plan, which costs $80 per month, to take advantage of the tech. Thankfully, there are some other great perks, too — like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Tidal, and 100GB of hot spot usage.
While Verizon and AT&T are primarily rolling out 5G with millimeter wave spectrum (mmWave), Sprint has a completely different deployment strategy. The carrier will use excess 2.5GHz spectrum to initially build its 5G network.
Sprint is adding 128-antenna massive Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) equipment to its existing cell towers to create a 4G/5G split service, which allows the company to roll out its service quickly and less expensively than other carriers. It means if you have a 5G phone, you’ll see 5G service near these towers. Dip away from the range and your phone will fall back to 4G LTE.
While rolling out 5G on midband spectrum may allow Sprint to deploy quickly and inexpensively, the strategy is not without pitfalls. Midband 5G does not offer the same fast speeds and low latency you’ll see on other providers with mmWave. It covers a larger area, but it doesn’t have as large a range as 4G LTE, and doesn’t do the best job of penetrating through walls and some types of glass.
Although Sprint is initially rolling out service on midband, it will continue to build its 5G network on other bands as well. The plan — if the Sprint and T-Mobile merger is successful — is for “the New T-Mobile” to have a robust, nationwide 5G network that supports lowband, midband, and mmWave.
Sprint has a few products that support 5G at the moment.
We’ll keep this list updated as Sprint launches new hardware. The two phones on this list cost more than $1,000, and they are not interoperable — so if you switch carriers, the Galaxy S10 5G you bought on Sprint’s network will not connect to 5G networks from other carriers. As 5G launches around the country, we’re expecting prices to drop, so it may not be worthwhile to shell out for a 5G phone just yet.
Updated on July 11, 2019: Sprint has turned on its 5G network in Chicago.
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- T-Mobile 5G rollout: Here’s everything you need to know
- Here are the cities where you can access 5G from major U.S. carriers right now