Sprint will launch a nationwide mobile 5G network in the first half of 2019 using the company’s 2.5 GHz spectrum. During the company’s fiscal third quarter earnings call, CEO Marcelo Claure told investors that the company has a significant advantage over its competitors because it has such a large spectrum footprint (100 MHz in the 2.5 GHz band in the top 100 cities).
Claure also said that Sprint is working with Qualcomm to make sure that the company has chipsets available in time for device makers to have devices in early 2019. And he said the company is working with a Korean phone manufacturer on those devices.
Sprint’s announcement about 5G comes after Verizon announced late last year that it will have fixed 5G (using pre-standard gear) deployed in three to five markets this year, and AT&T’s announcement earlier this year that it will have mobile 5G deployed in twelve markets this year. Both AT&T and Verizon plan to use mmWave spectrum for their 5G deployments. T-Mobile, meanwhile, has said it will begin its mobile 5G deployment in 2019 using the company’s 600 MHz spectrum. The company is targeting 2020 for a nationwide mobile 5G network.
Sprint said that it will achieve its 5G deployment by putting antennas in its towers that can handle massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) transmissions, noting that the sites with massive MIMO can increase network capacity up to 10 times that of regular 4G LTE. The company will then use massive MIMO to upgrade to 5G. Claure said that only software is required to upgrade massive MIMO to 5G NR.
Besides adding massive MIMO to more cell sites, Sprint will also deploy 40,000 outdoor small cells and 15,000 strand-mounted small cells through its partnerships with cable companies. Last year Sprint inked deals with Altice and Cox Communications to accelerate its small cell deployment.
Sprint CFO John Saw said that the company is working aggressively with fiber companies like Zayo Group to make sure the company has more fiber backhaul. “We are bringing dark fiber to our cell sites to support 5G,” he said.
To pay for all these upgrades, Sprint said it will increase its capex in the coming quarter by at least $1 billion.
Claure also touted Sprint’s relationship with SoftBank (the company owns more than 80 percent of Sprint) and other companies that are either owned by SoftBank or that the company has a majority stake in. For example, Claure said that it could work with OneWeb (a satellite company that has proposed to use more than 720 low-Earth orbit satellites to bring high-speed Internet to more locations around the world) to supplement its rural coverage, or the ride-sharing firm Uber to provide connectivity for autonomous cars.
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