Sprint to turn on Massive MIMO in 3 cities in April

Sprint said it plans to turn on 64T64R (64 transmit, 64 receive) Massive MIMO technology in three cities—Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles—in April. And later this year Sprint will expand that to Atlanta, Houston and Washington, D.C. The company said vendors Samsung, Ericsson and Nokia are supplying the equipment.

The company said the action is a key element of its move to 5G network technology, which the carrier has promised to launch in the first half of next year. Specifically, Sprint said the new Massive MIMO sites that the carrier’s vendors are currently installing can be upgraded to 5G technology through a software upgrade—meaning Sprint will be able to remotely activate 5G on the towers in the six cities without having engineers climb the towers again.

“Massive MIMO is a game-changer for TDD-LTE networks that’s being used by leading operators around the world to deploy Gigabit LTE and 5G,” said Sprint CTO John Saw in a release. “For more than a year we’ve been testing this new technology, and in a few short weeks we’ll be bringing the power of Massive MIMO to Sprint customers beginning with some of the largest markets in the country.”

Sprint explained that the MIMO radios use 128 antennas and can support both 4G LTE and 5G on the same radio. The technology will run through Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum.

On the device side, Sprint will leverage Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem, which supports 5G NR on Sprint’s 2.5 GHz Band 41 spectrum, and Sprint promised that device manufacturers would launch “5G mobile devices in the first half of 2019.”

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Sprint’s move to 64T64R MIMO represents a significant step forward in the MIMO space in the United States. Most operators like T-Mobile and Verizon operate 4x4 MIMO.

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Sprint’s latest announcement provides further clarity on the carrier’s 5G rollout plans. Sprint’s 5G push appears to stem from the collapse of merger negotiations in November between Sprint and T-Mobile. Immediately after the companies ended their talks, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son promised that Sprint would increase its annual capex from a low of around $2 billion to a high of $6 billion. Indeed, Sprint’s target of a high of $6 billion in capital expenses this year puts the operator ahead of T-Mobile, which is expected to spend around $5.3 billion in capex this year.