Updated Aug. 14 at 3:00 p.m. ET with comment from Sprint and LG on what to expect from the phone.
After years of wondering when our phones will finally take advantage of the crazy-fast speeds promised by 5G, we now have an answer: LG says it will launch the first 5G-ready smartphone as a Sprint exclusive in the first half of 2019.
There are no other details about the device or when it will be available, aside from the 6-month window announced Tuesday (Aug. 14). The phone launch will be tied to the official rollout of Sprint’s 5G network, which will be turned on in the first half of the year in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington D.C. More cities and compatible devices will be announced closer to launch.
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John Tudhope, Sprint's director of product development, said anyone who buys the 5G LG phone can expect the device to immediately connect to Sprint's 5G network in markets where 5G connectivity is available. If you're outside one of those markets, the phone will connect to Sprint's 4G LTE network, which will fill in the gaps until 5G goes nationwide.
LG's 5G smartphone won't look or feel much different from other premium flagship phones on the market. Yasser Nafei, LG's senior vice president of strategy and product management, said the company is working to make sure that its 5G phone has similar size, weight, battery life and superior performance to existing high-end handsets. Most importantly, LG's new phone will be insanely fast.
So how fast are we talking here?
"We're not getting into the speed claims just yet," Tudhope said. "That'll bear out over time as we do more testing, finalize development and get closer to launch. We think this is going to be noticeable to customers in their experiences around downloads, viewing of video content and other applications where speed and latency are really important."
In the press release announcing the new phone, Sprint and LG said "customers will experience the shift from 4G to 5G with full-length HD movie downloads in seconds instead of minutes" and "graphic-heavy videos and high speed games will play without delays, hiccups or lag-time."
Will that performance come at a cost? Sprint's Tudhope said it's too early to comment on the device's price, but said people can expect it to be in line with other flagship phones.
"Sprint is very aggressive and desires to be the price-value leader in the marketplace, in terms of device pricing perspective and a rate perspective," he said. "We're going to work hard with the 5G deployment to be the same way. We want to get it in as many people's hands as possible so they can experience this."
Motorola plans to sell a 5G Mod for its Moto Z3, which would allow that phone to connect to Verizon's 5G network by snapping an accessory to the back of the phone, but that's not quite as elegant a solution as putting a 5G modem inside the phone itself.
It’s possible that another smartphone maker could beat LG to market, though Samsung has already said that the Galaxy S10 won’t be 5G-compatible when it debuts next spring. Apple could very well be prepping next year's iPhones to work on 5G networks, but it’s unlikely we’ll see those until September 2019.
Carriers still have some work to do to build out their 5G networks. Sprint is adding massive MIMO antennas to existing cell sites to increase 5G coverage, which requires more antennas to increase capacity on the network. The company is also looking to add millimeter-wave spectrum in 2019, which is another way to reach 5G speeds and lower latency.
T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T are all aiming to deliver 5G mobile networks in 2019, but at this rate, Sprint might be the first. But will it be the best? We’ll have to put it to the test when LG’s 5G phone is ready for primetime in the not-too-distant future.