It’s the first day of MWC 2019 and I had the opportunity to sit in on Sprint’s roundtable discussion where the Now Network focused on its plans for 5G in 2019, as well as its announcement that it will turn on the service this May.

So what does Sprint’s 5G solution look like and where will it go live? Let’s jump right in.

How Sprint’s 5G works

sprint massive mimo 5g

The first thing Sprint wanted to reiterate is that this is real 5G, not just dressed up 4G. That said, Sprint takes a pretty different route for implementing 5G when compared to T-Mobile and Verizon.

While some of its competition is focusing on MMwave, Sprint will utilize the 2.5GHz spectrum to build its 5G network. This spectrum is also used by Sprint’s LTE service but the network is incorporating massive MIMO equipment to create what it calls a 4G/5G split. The advantage to this strategy is that it will allow a faster rollout — it’s cheaper too. On the flipside, mid-band 5G won’t be as fast or as low latency as some of its competitors. It also isn’t quite as good at penetrating through walls.

if the Sprint/Tmobile merger happens, the two very different approaches to 5G could combine to become a secret weapon.

In a video demo employees testing the service in Chicago ran a speed test that came out around 430Mbps but that’s far from a guarantee — especially once you add in network congestion and other factors. Regardless, Sprint’s 5G is going to be noticeably faster than LTE-based solutions.

Sprint was quick to point out this is just step one for its 5G plans and doesn’t rule out the use of MMwave down the road. And, of course, if the T-mobile/Sprint merger occurs as the two networks hope, this could give the new T-Mobile one of the most robust 5G solutions in the U.S.

What markets will see 5G in 2019?

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City will see 5G starting in May. Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington D.C. will follow later this year. While it’s obvious that not every inch of these cities will be blanketed in 5G, Sprint claims it will have fairly wide access. In total, Sprint expects to cover more than 1,000 square miles across its nine launch cities.

What devices will support 5G from day one?

LG V50 ThinQ 5G app screen

Right now Sprint has announced two phones that will support its network, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G. Additionally, it will offer a 5G hub/hotspot from HTC.

Google Fi will also support 5G, via Sprint

Google Fi 5G

Google Fi will also support 5G in the near future via Sprint. This isn’t particularly surprising, but good to see Sprint acknowledge it.

It’s unclear exactly when Google will offer 5G capable phones that work with its network, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see such a device hit in the later half of 2019.