At a nationwide 5G launch event Thursday in Irving, Sprint CEO Michel Combes took a few moments to look back at how each generation of the wireless network has transformed the way people communicate and birthed billion-dollar businesses.
With 1G, people could make the first wireless calls. With 2G, they could send text messages. With 3G, they could surf the internet on a smartphone. And with 4G, people became constantly connected to GPS, which made it possible for location-based apps like Uber and Lyft to thrive.
“Our 4G world has become better and better, and of course, we are just beginning to imagine what 5G will look like,” he said.
Dallas-Fort Worth is one of Sprint’s first four markets for 5G. It’s also the company’s largest.
The wireless carrier’s initial 5G footprint covers about 575 square miles and includes 1.6 million people in Dallas-Fort Worth. It’s expected to support average speeds of more than 100 megabits, up to 5 times faster than the speeds available with 4G, according to Sprint officials.
In the Dallas area, Sprint’s 5G network is live in Irving, downtown Fort Worth and the North Dallas area from Preston Hollow to Addison. Some of the areas it covers include Sundance Square in Fort Worth and the Dallas medical district near UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center.
Sprint’s 5G network also launched in parts of Atlanta, Houston and Kansas City. By the end of summer, Sprint will roll out 5G in five more cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
The Kansas City-based wireless carrier is pushing ahead with plans to build out the network, even as it seeks approval for a $26.5 billion merger with rival T-Mobile. The fifth-generation network — or 5G, for short — will bring the speed and capacity to keep up with the public’s consumption of data on their smartphones, such as uploading social media posts and streaming videos. It also will support the growing number of connected devices and allow businesses to use technology in new ways, such as powering robotic equipment on factory floors.
But even as 5G goes live in parts of cities, it may take years for customers and businesses to adopt the new technology and see its benefits. Consumers will need new smartphones to take full advantage of the network. The first 5G-compatible phones are just starting to debut — and Apple won’t offer a 5G iPhone until at least 2020. It may also take time for the 5G network to spark new innovations and compelling use cases.
In a report by research firm Bernstein, analysts predict 7 million 5G phones will be sold globally this year. That number is expected to increase to 97 million next year and 232 million in 2021. Sprint will start selling its first 5G phone Friday.
Sprint Chief Technology Officer John Saw said the wireless carrier chose Dallas because it is focused on expanding first in big, metropolitan markets. It also has a lot of spectrum that it can use in Dallas. Spectrum, or radio frequencies that wireless signals travel over, is the real estate of the telecom world.
The company would not say how many customers it has in the Dallas area, the back yard of one of its biggest rivals, Dallas-based AT&T.
All wireless carriers are in a race to build out their 5G networks. AT&T has launched its 5G network in parts of 19 cities, including Dallas. Verizon launched 5G this spring in Chicago and Minneapolis and plans to expand to more than 30 U.S. cities this year. T-Mobile plans to launch 5G in parts of Dallas this year.
Sprint and T-Mobile are seeking approval from the Justice Department to merge — a deal that would decrease the number of wireless carriers in the country from four to three. T-Mobile and Sprint are the third- and fourth-largest carriers in the country, respectively, after Verizon and AT&T.
The merger recently got the backing of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. It must also win approval from the Justice Department. According to a Bloomberg report, Justice Department officials may require T-Mobile and Sprint to establish a new wireless carrier as a condition of the merger. The report cites an unnamed source.
Thursday, Combes said 5G is why T-Mobile and Sprint must team up. He said the combined companies would accelerate the rollout of 5G in the U.S. by putting competitive pressure on their rivals. He said the wireless carriers would have the resources to expand connectivity in rural areas that have been skipped over in the past, too.
“Our competitors are offering 5G for a few,” Combes said. “We are offering 5G for many … and only Sprint combined with T-Mobile will be able to offer 5G for all in the U.S., and that’s obviously our aim.”