Sprint is still planning to launch a 5G network in 2019, and the carrier is moving toward building a next-generation network by announcing the first six cities where it plans to roll out Massive MIMO antenna technology: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.
Now, Massive MIMO isn’t necessarily 5G in and of itself, but it’s an important step toward reaching higher speeds, especially at lower areas of the cellular spectrum. Current MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) technology uses 2X2 (where two antennas are used for sending and receiving data) or 4X4 (four antennas) arrays. Massive MIMO uses far more: there’s a total of 128 antennas on Sprints arrays, with 64 for transmitting and 64 for receiving, which should enable faster speeds.
According to Sprint, its Massive MIMO cell sites will be capable of offering up to 10 times the capacity of current LTE systems, although, obviously, customers will have to see how things shake out in the real world once Sprint begins to roll out the new towers. The new antennas should facilitate rollouts of both gigabit-speed LTE and 5G networks, with the arrays offering the ability to update to 5G via software updates once Sprint actually launches the network. Additionally, the Massive MIMO antennas will be able to support split-mode service, allowing Sprint to continue to offer both 4G LTE and 5G on the same radio once 5G does launch.
Sprint is still planning on launching its 5G network in the 2.5 GHz (band 41) of spectrum, and is actively working with Qualcomm (its Snapdragon X50 5G modem will support the 5G NR standard on Sprint’s 2.5 GHz band) and device manufacturers to launch 5G phones in the first half of 2019 alongside the network.
Of the six cities, Sprint is rolling out the new Massive MIMO antennas first in Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, with Atlanta, Houston, and Washington, DC set to start receiving the new radios later this year.