Speaking at MWC 2018, Verizon has reasserted its intention to be the first to achieve a commercial 5G rollout in 2018. That's according to Verizon's executive director of device technology, Chris Schmidt, who went on to suggest that the mobile rollout would be fully compatible with 3GPP 5G NR standards. That's good news for anybody who happened to be following news about the company's desire to use its own 5G Technical Forum (5GTF) specifications. Recent benchmarks of those have concluded that 5GTF is robust but not as fast as might be desired. However, the mobile carrier will reportedly be able to use a lot of the same network infrastructure that is already in place, with appropriate updates. As to where the network will roll out first, Schmidt points to Sacramento as a starting point and has planned between three and five fixed 5G rollouts in 2018. Other locations will be announced as plans are finalized.
Unfortunately, Schmidt also pointed out that there won't be any specifics available with regard to the timing of the rollout until after chipset manufacturers begin to push out chips that support next-generation networks. Those aren't expected to begin arriving until some point later in the year but the carrier's plan could be put on hold if the chips don't arrive - which would give the initiative for the first 5G roll out to AT&T. The latter company's own plans are quite a bit more ambitious than Verizon's, with plans to launch as many as 12 markets in the same time frame. However, AT&T also plans to start with hotspot-like "pucks" instead of hinging on whether or not 5G-compatible smartphones hit the market. That could give an advantage to Verizon in terms of consumer awareness, even if AT&T manages to implement a commercially viable 5G network first.
With that said, 5G is more than a mobile-capable network, so it won't just be smartphones taking advantage of the next-generation speeds on offer. In fact, it will likely be far more important to the emerging self-driving vehicles, smart cars, and IoT technologies industries than to the more generally considered smartphone market. Bearing that in mind, the competition between U.S. carriers to be the first with 5G may not depend on who arrives first at all.