Sprint’s 5G network extends to MVNOs

Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) riding on Sprint’s network already have access to 5G in one city, with additional markets planned soon.

Sprint launched mobile 5G earlier this year in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Kansas City, Missouri, followed in late August by Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

Sprint confirmed to FierceWireless that by mid-September its 5G network was turned up for MVNO use in Chicago, and the carrier’s goal is to have all nine cities available for MVNOs by the end of October, according to a company spokesperson.  

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Exactly who is offering 5G using Sprint’s network is another question.

Sprint had already announced plans to expand its MVNO partnerships with some larger providers to include 5G. That includes Google Fi, which Sprint said in late February would be an early adopter of the carrier’s mobile 5G technology that uses 2.5 GHz spectrum and Massive MIMO radio technology. Altice USA just launched its mobile service earlier this month via an infrastructure-based MVNO deal with Sprint and said it planned to offer 5G services in the future.

It appears smaller prepaid brands plan to get in on the action too. Allovi Wireless, a Sprint MVNO, in late August said 5G mobile data would “soon be available” on its month-to-month cell phone plans. Further details, including exact timing and price, were not disclosed, and Allovi did not respond to inquiries from FierceWireless for additional information. In a release, Allovi said it would start offering 5G “at the same it will be provided from other companies,” but stressed its prices “offer huge savings.”  

In its August report on prepaid competition, Wave7 Research also flagged Gen Mobile, another Sprint MVNO, as one that has access to Sprint 5G, and is currently developing a 5G strategy. FierceWireless reached out to Gen Mobile, but not could independently verify the report.

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According to Wave7Research, Gen Mobile has been gaining dealers, and added access to additional payment platforms.

“With two Sprint MVNOs now planning for 5G efforts, it appears that Sprint likely has launched a wholesale 5G solution for its MVNO partners,” Wave7 wrote in the report.

While Sprint confirmed availability of or plans for 5G access for MVNO partners, the carrier did not provide any additional details about its 5G wholesale offering.

Sprint historically has been a favored partner for MVNOs, and T-Mobile executives have promised that if the pair’s proposed merger happens, MVNOs won’t be left in the cold.

Speaking on T-Mobile’s second-quarter earnings call, President and COO Mike Sievert said that all existing MVNO agreements from both companies would be inherited by the new company and carry forward through their various expiration dates, with the potential to extend.

“We’re really pleased to support all those [existing MVNO agreements],” said Sievert, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call. “We won’t be killing or canceling any MVNO deals.”

“One of the things we’ve said all along is that this new company is a bigger friend to MVNOs than the standalones,” he added. “The massive capacity that we are creating with this new network creates the incentive for us to want to be a provider to MVNOs.”

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The fate of T-Mobile and Sprint’s tie-up remains undecided, and the merger faces opposition from 18 states, representing more than 50% of the U.S. population, that are suing to block the deal. A court trial is scheduled to start Dec. 9. Uncertainty around the deal has created concerns for some MVNO partners, including Ting Mobile.

Ting earlier this summer announced it would let its MVNO agreement with T-Mobile expire in December in favor of Verizon, blaming challenges from the still unresolved Sprint/T-Mobile deal. Still, the MVNO said it would continue to offer services using Sprint’s network through September 2020. At the time, Elliot Noss, president and CEO of Ting’s parent company Tucows, cited competitive economics and a productive relationship with Sprint’s current team.