Sprint may soon merge with T-Mobile, but the company is hardly holding back its 5G rollout in the meantime. The next generation of cellular connectivity already launched to Sprint subscribers, and there are 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. The limited rollout of the service began in select cities in 2018 from various carriers, and mobile 5G 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 offering connectivity in nine markets already. Those markets include some of the largest cities in the country.
Here’s everything you need to know about Sprint’s 5G rollout.
Sprint’s 5G network is now live in select areas of Phoenix, Arizona, New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. These cities join the initial launch cities of Atlanta, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Kansas City, as well as Chicago, which launched in July, bringing Sprint’s total 5G footprint to 2,100 square miles covering 11 million people in the U.S.
If you’re in one of the areas that already have 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. T-Mobile has already launched mmWave in New York City.
Sprint has a few products that support 5G at the moment, and the latest comes from OnePlus.
We’ll keep this list updated as Sprint launches new hardware. Two phones on this list cost more than $1,000, meaning the OnePlus 7 Pro is the most affordable. None of them are 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 August 27, 2019: Sprint has turned on its 5G network in New York, L.A., Phoenix, and Washington D.C.
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