Sprint hasn’t given a hard date for its 5G launch in New York, but it’s already starting to turn on its 5G towers in Brooklyn. I got a few tips as to where they might be, so I decided to hunt them down.
Sprint launched its mid-band 5G network in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City a few weeks ago, and we went to Dallas to test it out with the LG V50 phone. We saw about a 0.6-mile range from cell sites, but we couldn’t properly measure speeds because of a network configuration bug affecting speed test software.
New York, LA, Chicago, Phoenix, and Washington D.C. are next up, and the one thing I can confirm is that Sprint is indeed working on it. My various tips had me bouncing around Brooklyn and Queens all afternoon. I didn’t find Sprint 5G in any of the more central, gentrified areas, but I finally tracked it down in a distant residential neighborhood called Flatlands.
As I wandered around running tests, I realized the difference between the “5G” logo on the screen and the glowing “5G” light on the back of the LG V50 phone. The logo shows when you have 5G. The light just glows whenever you’re transferring data, 4G, or 5G (and you can turn the light off if that’s too silly.)
On the extremely pre-launch network I wasn’t supposed to be using, I got about a quarter-mile from each cell site before the 5G gave out. I had strong 4G signal even beyond the edge of the 5G radius. Sprint is obviously going to improve that performance.
But the real lesson, to me, was how dense Sprint’s network already is. Look how close those cell sites are, even deep in Brooklyn! They’re every few blocks. (On the map, the yellow buildings are cell site locations from CellMapper.net; the blue phone icons are spots where my phone registered 5G.)
Fascinatingly, Flatlands is totally not on the coverage map that Sprint has been showing for its first-round NYC coverage. That’s focused on Manhattan, and the areas near the two airports. (My other tips weren’t about areas on the official map, either.) That makes me think Sprint is just using outlying areas to get things right without being scrutinized by, well, people like me.
Unlike T-Mobile’s speedy millimeter-wave 5G in Manhattan, Sprint’s 2.5GHz network in Brooklyn isn’t properly configured yet, and there’s a known bug in its network that messes with HTTP speed test results. Ergo, no good speed tests.
On the other hand, I could confirm that Sprint’s 5G indicator is a lot more stable and consistent than the flickery indicator you see on millimeter-wave phones. That’s because Sprint is getting its indicator from the tower over the control channel, but millimeter-wave systems only turn it on when sending and receiving data.
And I was happy to see that I couldn’t see the cell sites. Often, they were on the other side of or around buildings. With the millimeter-wave 5G that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are using, right now you basically have to be able to see the cell site to be able to use it.
Sprint is juggling three infrastructure providers: Ericsson, Samsung, and Nokia. Right now, Ericsson and Samsung are known to be ahead of Nokia on delivering stable 5G base station software. New York is a Nokia market, so detecting 5G in Brooklyn reassures me that all of Sprint’s infrastructure providers are on board.
Honestly, this all isn’t much to gain from an afternoon riding on buses around Brooklyn. I was really heading out to see if the HTC 5G Hub and the LG V50 got different levels of 5G signa. To make a long story short, the network was too far pre-launch to figure that out reliably. I’m hoping to hear more about Sprint’s New York 5G launch toward the end of this month.