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Aptly named Sprint is first out the door with 5G promise

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Sprint is living up to its name with one of the first timeline promises for 5G, even if it a vague and middling ambition.

Following the first release of the Non-Standalone 3GPP 5G NR specification there will be a tidal wave of promises made, and Sprint has edged its nose in front of the pack. Working alongside Qualcomm and Softbank, the team is aiming to deliver for wide-scale 5G deployment, to provide commercial services and devices in late 2019.

“This is an important milestone and we’re making great progress accelerating the development and commercialization of 5G NR in the 2.5 GHz band,” said Dr. John Saw, Sprint CTO. “5G will spur dramatic innovation and progress around the world, and we see great opportunity in mobile 5G, massive machine type communications, and ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.”

And while announcements like this will generate a bit of short-term positive PR for the telco, unfortunately the humbleness of the ambition will probably get lost in the noise before too long. 5G by late 2019 is likely to be a timeline we’ll see quite a lot, or at least this will the ambitions of the telcos. Perhaps it is better to be first, and bathe in the glory for a short while, than to over promise on the speediness of delivery.

The specification includes bandwidths up to 100 MHz for an n41 (2.5 GHz) single component carrier versus today’s 20 MHz per component carrier for 4G LTE. With this now written in stone, Sprint is in a pretty solid position, with more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum available in the top 100 US markets. It claims to be the largest hoarder of sub-6 GHz 5G spectrum available for wide-scale use in the country.

The first steps towards the 5G promised land will begin next year with the deployment of 2.5 GHz Massive MIMO radios slated for commercial use in 2018. These 64T64R radios will all be software-upgradable to 5G NR, though this is not exactly a unique claim for the telco; most are working in some fashion to deliver these foundation blocks.

Perhaps the stars are beginning to align for a telco which struggling to compete with the duopoly (AT&T and Verizon) in the 4G world, and couldn’t adapt quick enough to meet the challenge of the marauding T-Mobile US. The assets are certainly there for Sprint to shine in the bright 5G world, but this is a company which has a lot of things to sort out before it earns the right to dine at the top table once again. The potential is there, Sprint just needs to prove its more than just a fast starter now.

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