Sprint was late to the 5G realm. In May 2017, the carrier announced plans to develop and launch a Sprint 5G network and 5G devices by 2019, but the announcement was light on details: “Qualcomm Technologies, SoftBank [Sprint’s parent company], and Sprint have jointly agreed to develop technologies for Sprint 5G, including the 3GPP New Radio (NR) standard in Band 41 (2.5 GHz) for accelerated widescale 5G deployments.”
Sprint 5G Competition
Sprint already holds 2.5-GHz spectrum licenses and plans to use that advantage to attempt to beat the competition to market. The Sprint 5G announcement came on the heels of T-Mobile’s announcement that it would use its newly purchased 600-MHz spectrum to develop and build a coast-to-coast 5G network by 2020. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, have also set goals for early 5G rollouts, in higher-frequency bands, such as the 28-GHz range.
Signals travel farther in the lower-spectrum bands that Sprint and T-Mobile own, so those companies are understandably focused on the potential of covering larger geographical areas, reaching into rural spaces, as opposed to the more centralized, urban coverage championed by Verizon and AT&T.
Whereas T-Mobile’s 600-MHz spectrum is categorized as low-band, and Verizon and AT&T’s 28-GHz spectrum is in the high-band range, Sprint’s 2.5-GHz holdings are mid-band frequencies.
Sprint 5G Speed Trials
In addition to its exploration of Sprint 5G in mid-band frequencies, the carrier partnered with Samsung in June 2017 to test rapid massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) — a technology that scales MIMO technology to hundreds or even thousands of antennas and terminals to enable powerhouse performance.
Sprint 5G’s MIMO configuration is characterized by eight transmitting antennas and eight receiving antennas (8T8R). During field testing, technicians measured speeds of 330 Mbps per channel—approximately 400 percent the capacity and 300 percent the cell edge performance of current radios. Sprint 5G plans to test 64T64R antennas in the coming years, with the goal of achieving speeds beyond 1 Gbps.
Sprint 5G on the Horizon
Sprint 5G will also rely on the company’s network functions virtualization (NFV) plans. Günther Ottendorfer, COO of technology at Sprint, says the carrier has been deploying its OpenStack cloud-based NFV platform as “an essential building block” as the Sprint 5G network comes into focus.