While AT&T and Verizon have been rushing to get any kind of 5G network up and running by the end of 2018, T-Mobile and Sprint are taking things a little more slow and steady. The first 5G smartphones won’t be available until the first half of 2019, but when they are, T-Mobile and Sprint will have their networks ready.
For T-Mobile, the first cities to get a live 5G network will be New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Las Vegas. Sprint has announced plans for six cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. AT&T previously announced that the first three cities to get its mobile 5G network will be Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco, meaning that customers in Dallas will be bathing in 5G connectivity by early next year.
All three networks are going about the 5G buildout process in slightly different ways. In Sprint’s case, the first step is to deploy massive MIMO radios, a technology that uses dozens of antennas for transmitting and receiving, allowing devices to use the available spectrum far more effficiently. Current LTE deployments use 4×4 MIMO, but massive MIMO goes up to 64×64 — hence the “massive.” MIMO is a crucial component of the high speeds that 5G promises, but Sprint will initially be using the massive MIMO antennas on the LTE network, before transitioning them to 5G next year.
T-Mobile, meanwhile, is promising to build out 5G infrastructure in 30 cities this year, preparing for an initial rollout of the 5G network next year. “At T-Mobile, our vision of a 5G future keeps the customer front and center, just like the way we built the nation’s fastest LTE network,” said Neville Ray, Chief Technology Officer at T-Mobile. “When we built our LTE network, we had the unlimited future in mind, and we take that same approach here. Every dollar we invest in our network is a 5G dollar. All the LTE Advanced work we do is 5G work, and we’re leading the industry with the most advanced LTE network in the country. Every step we take — every innovation – builds toward a future-proof 5G network, one where our customers continue to come out on top.”
AT&T’s timeline is even more ambitious. As previously announced, AT&T is planning on having 5G live in 12 cities by the end of 2018. The only catch is that there won’t be any 5G smartphones ready until early next year, so the only devices that will be running on AT&T’s network will be “pucks,” wireless hotspots that share the 5G connection with other devices over Wi-Fi. AT&T and Verizon have also announced that they’ll be using 5G networks to bring fixed wireless broadband into people’s homes, as an alternative to cable.
None of the announcements today mark a real change away from the timeline we’ve heard before. Mobile 5G networks should be up and running in dozens of large metro areas in 2019, but only a handful of devices will be compatible, and the 5G network will still be highly reliant on the existing LTE networks. Still, the speed that the big four carriers (and some others) are working on 5G rollouts is encouraging, and for once puts the US at the forefront of wireless internet.