Sprint has announced that it will be bringing 5G networks to Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston first, with the six cities to begin experiencing "5G-like capabilities" as of April.
The upgrades, announced during Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018, will begin with the rollout of Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (Massive MIMO) in LA, Chicago, and Dallas.
The carrier said it will then "aggressively expand to additional markets including Atlanta, Houston, and Washington DC later this year".
"The race to 5G is heating up, and let me be clear: Today's announcement is a huge step toward Sprint being first to offer a 5G mobile network," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said.
"Our deep spectrum position gives us an incredible advantage no other carrier has in the US. We're making significant investments using state-of-the-art technology, and working with leading chip and handset partners to deliver an incredible next-gen network for our customers."
Sprint owns 204MHz of spectrum and more than 160MHz of 2.5GHz in the top 100 markets of the US.
Thousands of 64 transmit, 64 receive (64T-64R) Massive MIMO radios using 128 antennas from Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung will be deployed this year and next by Sprint, in order to increase capacity across its mobile network.
The Massive MIMO radios can be software upgraded to support 5G, with its spectrum holdings meaning it can offer enough capacity to operate 5G and LTE simultaneously over these radios.
"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," Sprint CTO Dr John Saw said.
"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."
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Sprint said it is also working with Qualcomm Technologies to help launch 5G mobile devices in the first half of 2019, with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X50 5G modem providing support for 5G New Radio (5G NR) in Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum band.
"With Nokia's 5G-ready massive MIMO radios, Sprint will build high capacity for its customers, especially in densely populated locations such as city centres and high-rise buildings," Nokia president of Mobile Networks Marc Rouanne added.
"This powerful technology will be easy for Sprint to deploy on its 2.5GHz spectrum, boosting data traffic, and we are looking forward to helping Sprint develop new levels of innovation in cloud robotics, augmented reality, and more."
Sprint had earlier this month announced plans to launch its 5G mobile network in the first half of 2019, saying it would use its 2.5GHz spectrum and deploy 40,000 outdoor small cell solutions, 15,000 stand-mounted small cells, and 1 million Sprint Magic Boxes -- labelled the world's first wireless small cells -- to cell towers.
This followed Sprint last year partnering with Samsung to trial gigabit LTE using Massive MIMO.
Samsung and Sprint had also tested Massive MIMO -- which sends multiple channels of data at the same time, allowing users to have peak performances simultaneously -- earlier in 2017 on the 2.5GHz spectrum band in Suwon, South Korea.
The previous Korean trials made use of Samsung's infrastructure, network design, operation, data collection, and data processing solutions along with Sprint's test cases and scenarios.
Sprint then worked for over a year to improve its Minneapolis LTE network ahead of Super Bowl 52, which regional VP Scott Santi last month told ZDNet would benefit local businesses and residents "long after the crowds subside".
This involved employing three-channel carrier aggregation -- 800MHz, 1.9GHz, and 2.5GHz -- across 400 cell sites, as well as installing 200 new small cells using 2.5GHz spectrum in both the stadium and on lamp posts and street lights throughout the city.
Sprint in December additionally completed global 5G NR interoperability trials with Ericsson following the 3GPP standardisation of non-standalone (NSA) 5G NR specs.
The live demonstrations utilised the 3.6GHz and mmWave 28GHz spectrum frequencies using Ericsson's pre-commercial 5G base stations.