Sprint, LG promise first mobile 5G phone, coming next year

Sprint and LG announced they’re building a 5G phone that the companies believe will be the nation’s first mobile 5G smartphone. The companies said the phone would be available in the first half of next year, launching in conjunction with Sprint’s 5G network.

“Based on everything we know, we believe we’re on path to put out the first mobile 5G smartphone next year,” said John Tudhope, Sprint's director of product marketing.

The companies didn’t offer much in the way of details, however, including how much the phone would cost or its features. They also wouldn’t provide details on Sprint’s forthcoming 5G service, including what it might cost.

However, Tudhope confirmed the device would run the Android operating system, and LG’s Yasser Nafei said the gadget would feature silicon from a “premium provider” and that the phone’s battery life would “meet customer expectations.” Those comments are key because Qualcomm and Intel are battling for 5G market share, and because industry observers have warned that initial 5G devices might consume extra battery life. Since there are not yet any integrated 4G/5G chips on the market, initial devices could potentially be required to run separate chips for 4G and 5G.

Importantly, Tudhope said that the gadget would support Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum for 5G. That’s the band that Sprint is currently targeting for 5G services, and the carrier has made it clear that it is currently in the process of deploying 2.5 GHz 5G equipment—mainly through massive MIMO antennas—to all of its towers across the country. Along those lines, Sprint said at the end of the second quarter that its 2.5 GHz services are now up and running on nearly two-thirds of its macro sites.

Sprint said its 5G mobile network will initially be available in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.; the carrier has promised to announce additional markets in the future.

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Sprint isn’t the only company that’s already discussing its 5G devices. Verizon and Motorola said earlier this month that Motorola’s moto z3 smartphone will support a 5G “moto mod,” a magnetic attachment that will enable the phone to access the carrier's 5G network when it launches next year. And AT&T has promised to offer its first mobile 5G device later this year, though carrier executives have described the device as a “puck” rather than a phone.

T-Mobile has so far remained relatively quiet on the 5G device front, though the company earlier this year promised it would launch mobile 5G services in 30 cities by the end of this year.

Sprint, for its part, has boasted that its forthcoming mobile 5G network will leverage the carrier’s extensive 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings—Sprint executives have described 2.5 GHz as the ideal spectrum band for 5G because it offers a balance between low-band coverage and high-band capacity. AT&T and Verizon have both said their initial 5G launches will leverage millimeter-wave spectrum, while T-Mobile said its own 5G network will initially use its 600 MHz spectrum holdings.