Sprint is presently in the process of field-testing a Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service and is targeting a late 2018 launch, its Chief Technology Officer John Saw said last week in Barcelona, Spain. The executive believes some of the company's rivals were too eager with flipping the switch on VoLTE and have consequently delivered "a bad experience" as they were forced into refarming some spectrum in order to adequately support such a service. Mr. Saw claims Sprint is taking a different, more patient approach to the matter and is instead doing everything it can to guarantee an optimal VoLTE service that's objectively superior and just as reliable as its CDMA2000 1X (IS-2000) voice network.
The executive didn't provide a more specific availability window for Sprint's new offering, with the company's previous statements on the matter already being indicative of a fall launch. The CTO also said consumers can expect to see Sprint's first 5G-enabled smartphones at Mobile World Congress 2019, thus making the same promise T-Mobile did at this year's mobile trade show. Sprint's 5G efforts remain unchanged and rely on the millimeter-wave spectrum which Mr. Saw claims the telecom giant has been exploring even before 5G started being standardized. Going forward, the Overland Park, Kansas-based wireless carrier will continue pursuing small cell deployment, having already opted for the kind of stations that will serve as the backbone of its next-generation network. Such devices will be the size of a regular backpack and primarily be installed on light poles, Mr. Saw revealed. Sprint previously vowed to start deploying 5G connectivity on a significant scale by mid-2019 with plans to offer nationwide coverage by 2020.
All four national carriers in the U.S. remain adamant they'll be the first to offer commercial 5G in the United States, though only T-Mobile is presently planning to do so without being overly reliant on the mmWave spectrum. While that approach may accelerate its buildouts and be conducive to achieving widespread coverage, some industry watchers remain skeptical about the company's ability to deliver speeds that can match mmWave offerings of its rivals by solely leveraging its 600MHz holdings. Sprint believes it still has a major advantage over its three competitors due to its vast spectrum portfolio, though the rest of the industry may reduce its lead at the upcoming 28GHz auction the FCC is seeking to hold in early fall.