Sprint, SoftBank and Qualcomm vow commercial 5G services by late 2019

Without providing a lot of details, Sprint, along with parent company Softbank and technology partner Qualcomm Technologies, announced they have jointly agreed to develop technologies for 5G, including the 3GPP New Radio (NR) standard in Band 41 (2.5 GHz) for accelerated wide-scale 5G deployments. 

The companies plan to provide commercial services and devices in late 2019 and promised that more details will be forthcoming.

Sprint, which famously has a treasure trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum (more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the top 100 U.S. markets) has called the 2.5 GHz band the low band for 5G and one that gives it an advantage. Sprint's 2.5 GHz spectrum also happens to use TDD-LTE, which is used in data-centric technologies such as Wi-Fi, and unpaired channels, enabling Sprint to apply more spectrum and capacity to downlink versus uplink.  

A Next Generation Mobile Networks Forum (NGMN) white paper earlier this year recognized 2.5 GHz as one of the recommended bands for sub-6 GHz 5G.

Sprint previously has discussed how it is using Nokia equipment in Band 41 and took the opportunity at February's Mobile World Congress 2017 trade show in Barcelona to demonstrate massive MIMO, showing how the technology can boost cell capacity by eight times compared to 4G LTE. The joint demonstration, showcased at Nokia’s booth, made Sprint the first U.S. operator to demonstrate massive MIMO for TDD-LTE spectrum with 64T64R, for both the downlink and uplink on an existing LTE frequency.  

Just last week, T-Mobile US announced it will use its newly acquired 600 MHz spectrum as part of its plans to launch a nationwide 5G network starting in 2019. T-Mobile also has 28 GHz licenses from its MetroPCS acquisition.

Oft-cited as a potential merger partner for Sprint, T-Mobile was once again identified as SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son's favored merger partner during his company’s earnings conference call this week, the Financial Times reported (sub. req.).

Last month, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray was asked during T-Mobile’s first-quarter conference call to comment on 2.5 GHz. Ray said the biggest news there is about High Performance User Equipment (HPUE), a handset-based technology that probably provides some benefits for Sprint, but he said it’s a far cry from leveling the playing field with mid-band spectrum.  

He believes 5G is going to roll out across all spectrum brands.

“I don't believe that 2.5 gigahertz is the new low band of 5G,” Ray said at the time, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript. “I mean, we're going to see 5G in low-band and mid-band and 2.5 gigahertz and 3.5 gigahertz and everywhere else. That's just a matter of time ... it's an interesting asset. I mean, I think HPUE helps. We haven't seen the results yet that would make us hugely excited about comparable values with mid-band, but we'll wait to see more.”