Sprint 5G arrives where people actually live

Sprint 5G logo on LG V50
Image Credit: TechRadar (Image credit: Future)

Sprint’s 5G network for phones just went live yesterday in what’s becoming the biggest competitive market for 5G: Chicago. And, it’s offering a very different package from what we’ve seen from Verizon’s 5G network. 

The rollout makes Sprint’s 5G network massive. In Chicago alone, it’s estimated to cover as many as 700,000 people. That’s because it’s available in many areas of the city. From the center of downtown Chicago (“The Loop”) out to Humboldt Park, north past Montrose Beach, and south beyond Chinatown, the signal is available.

There are limited devices that can connect to the network right now. Two smartphones, the LG V50 ThinQ and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, and the HTC 5G Hub.

A difference in 5G technology

The new Sprint 5G service does substantially more to coat Chicago in signal than Verizon’s mmWave 5G signal, which is also available in the city. This is the result of Sprint relying on a 2.5GHz frequency to transmit its 5G network. The 2.5GHz spectrum has a long range and can pass through some materials. 

Verizon’s mmWave 5G technology, meanwhile, has severely limited potential to pass through materials, though beam-forming can allow the signal to transmit over long distances, but it requires more ideal conditions than 2.5GHz needs to transmit the same distance.

That different bit of spectrum does come with some other trade-offs, though. It may not offer the same 5G speeds as mmWave can offer. In our testing, we’ve seen Verizon’s 5G network deliver 1.4Gbps speeds. That let us download the entire first season of Stranger Things from Netflix in 38.78 seconds. 

In the short time we’ve had the LG V50 up and running on Sprint’s 5G network, we’ve been able to conduct a few speed tests that saw some speeds as high as 216Mbps. While that’s a far cry from the 1.4Gbps we got on a mmWave connection, it’s still strong performance. And, we didn’t have to stand still to get it. 

While strolling to catch the train, we decided to do an unscientific experiment, starting a huge download before crossing a bridge and seeing how far it got when we reached the other side. This was not a long bridge, and the download had reached 822MB by the time we were to the other side. It took maybe a minute.

Chicago bridge on Wells

This was the bridge we tested across | Image Credit: TechRadar (Image credit: Future)

That’s certainly fast, but not insanely fast. What’s impressive about that test is that we got those speeds with the phone in our pocket while we were on the move. Moving around even in the slightest proved troublesome with mmWave 5G connections.

Sprint is currently focused on building a 5G network that is consistent. That means the carrier wants it to be available indoors, outdoors, when you’re stationary, and when you’re on the move. So far, it’s looking like it may be doing just that. The typical speeds Sprint is aiming for are around 150Mbps, though it says there’s potential for Gigabit speeds. And, 5G upload speeds are also possible now, as Sprint has just enabled 5G uplink in Chicago with more regions to follow.

Sprint hopes to see the network grow even stronger through the possible merger with T-Mobile, which would allow the two carriers to combine their available spectrum to deliver even broader 5G coverage.

Mark Knapp

Over the last several years, Mark has been tasked as a writer, an editor, and a manager, interacting with published content from all angles. He is intimately familiar with the editorial process from the inception of an article idea, through the iterative process, past publishing, and down the road into performance analysis.