The 4G era has not been kind to Sprint. It went from a strong number three in the US wireless market to a distant fourth place behind T-Mobile. The company hopes that the move to 5G will help it regain market share and compete on network quality. CEO Marcelo Claure now says the carrier will begin its 5G rollout in the first half of 2019, putting it ahead of the other national carriers. However, that new network will likely come with higher plan prices.
Claure cites Sprint's extensive 2.5GHz licenses as a strength as the era of 5G approaches. That gives Sprint the spectrum it needs to launch 5G service nationwide, and half of its towers already support the 2.5GHz band. T-Mobile says it plans to start deploying 5G in late 2019, finishing up in 2020. AT&T is looking to offer preliminary access to 5G on hotspot devices in some cities this year, but it's vague on the full rollout. Verizon is planning to deploy fixed 5G service via millimeter wave spectrum in the coming year.
Being first isn't an automatic win for Sprint, though. It was also first to 4G with WiMAX, and we all remember how that went. Leaning heavily on 2.5GHz could also cause problems for Sprint. While the bandwidth of 2.5GHz is significant, it's not great at transmitting through obstacles. T-Mobile says it's going to use all its spectrum for 5G, including the highly prized 600MHz.
Sprint has aggressively lowered prices over the last few years, but Claure suggests that will stop when the 5G network launches. He claims that other carriers will have trouble raising prices on their 5G network (presumably because they're already priced higher than Sprint), but Sprint has "a lot of room to increase our price of unlimited." Claure didn't specify what sort of price increases we could expect, but apparently we'll find out in 2019.