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Sprint vows broad 5G coverage when four cities launch in May

Four of the nine cities will launch in May, with another five by the first half.

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Sprint CEO Michel Combes speaking at a press conference at MWC Barcelona.

Roger Cheng/CNET

Sprint's 5G service is just around the corner. As long as you're in one of four markets.

Sprint Chief Technology Officer John Saw said in a press conference on Monday that 5G will turn on in Chicago, Atlanta, the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the company's hometown of Kansas City. Another five markets -- Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Phoenix and Houston -- will launch by the end of the year.

Sprint is just one of several carriers racing to build out 5G, the next generation of wireless technology that has long been hyped, but is finally coming to reality. 5G is one of the biggest topics of conversation at the MWC Barcelona trade show, with the boost in speed and responsiveness serving as the foundation for other trends such as self-driving cars, telemedicine and streaming virtual reality.

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Sprint has been getting the groundwork ready for its 5G service at this show. On Sunday, LG unveiled the V50 ThinQ, which will come to Sprint as its first 5G phone. HTC also announced a 5G-powered hotspot called the HTC 5G Hub. It will also carry the Galaxy S10 5G.

Sprint also said that Google Fi customers will eventually be able to access its 5G service.

Sprint also said it has partnered with Hatch, which is a 5G-powered mobile gaming service.

The smallest nationwide wireless carrier is still awaiting regulatory approval for its deal to be acquired by larger T-Mobile, which would create a strong No. 3 player to compete against Verizon and AT&T.

First to 5G

Pretty much every carrier claims to be the first to 5G. Sprint Michel Combes insisted several times that the company would be first.

But AT&T has already launched 5G in a dozen markers, while Verizon has a home 5G service. Combes said he sees being first to 5G as offering real coverage with real devices. 

"We want to make sure you provide a compelling value proposition," he said.

The company said its total 5G coverage footprint is more than 1,000 square miles across all nine cities. For instance, that includes 30 square miles covering midtown and lower Manhattan, as well as 230 square miles covering the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

That T-Mobile deal

Combes said he still expects to get regulatory approval for the deal, and will close the deal by the first half of the year.

"When you combine T-Mobile and Sprint, we can build the best nationwide 5G network," Combes said.

His comments, however, come amid increasing questions about whether regulators will give the green light. Senators have grilled executives from both carriers, and are calling for the deal to be squashed. Ultimately, however, the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department are the agencies that need to give their approvals.