sprintClaims about being the first with one 5G achievement or another have been coming at a rapid pace of late. The latest 5G first claim comes from Sprint and LG, who are working together on what they say will be the first mobile 5G smartphone in the U.S. in the first half of 2019. Device specifications and exact timing will be announced “later,” Sprint said.

If the claim about the first mobile 5G smartphone sounds like something someone else already claimed, that’s because Verizon earlier this month said it had launched the first “5G upgradeable” smartphone. But customers will have to purchase an add-on module at a future date before they can use 5G service.

Sprint’s 5G First
As with some other 5G firsts, Sprint and LG are making the first mobile 5G smartphone claim before actually achieving it, instead stating that they will be first. Forward-looking firsts have become increasingly common in the highly competitive U.S. wireless market and all major wireless carriers have made them:

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  • Verizon claims it will be the first U.S. carrier to launch 5G service – a goal it expects to achieve in the second half of this year. That service will be fixed, rather than mobile, however. Verizon chose to focus initially on fixed service because equipment to support it was available sooner.  The company has said it sees a potential addressable market  of 30 million homes for the service, but other carriers – including AT&T – see limited opportunities for 5G fixed wireless.
  • AT&T said it will be the first company to launch mobile 5G, which the company is still promising for 2018, but there will be no smartphones for the initial launch. Instead the carrier will rely on a mobile hotspot, to which customers will connect their smartphones.
  • T-Mobile says it will be first with nationwide mobile 5G – a goal it expects to achieve by 2020.

Sprint previously announced plans to bring mobile 5G to several cities in the first half of 2019. With today’s first mobile 5G smartphone claim, the carrier has found an as-yet-unclaimed first it can shoot for.

The LG Wild Card
LG currently is a distant third in the global and U.S. smartphone markets, behind dominant players Apple and Samsung. For Sprint, the choice of LG as its initial vendor could be a bit risky in that Americans seem to have strong loyalty to the Big Two suppliers.

On the other hand, if LG indeed is first with a mobile 5G smartphone, that could be an excellent way for it to make some gains against the Big Two – although how far the gap can be closed remains to be seen. It’s also unclear why other carriers wouldn’t also buy from LG if LG indeed is first to market with a 5G smartphone – unless the only 5G band those smartphones use, initially at least, is the 2.5 GHz band on which only Sprint is currently focused.

T-Mobile initially plans to use the 600 MHz band for 5G, while AT&T and Verizon are focused initially on millimeter wave bands.

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