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Sprint and LG say they're building the first US 5G smartphone

The 5G race is starting to heat up.

Mysterious Sprint Spark phone
Sprint says LG will build its first 5G phone. 
Lynn La/CNET

Sprint is planting its own flag in the 5G race.

The nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier, poised to merge with T-Mobile next year, said Tuesday that it has tapped LG to build a 5G smartphone and believes it will be the first to market with one next year. 

"We think we're far enough along in the development that we would be surprised if anyone beat us," said John Tudhope, director of product portfolio for Sprint. 

Neither Sprint nor LG offered any specifics on the model or price of the device. 

It's the latest 5G headline to drop as the hype over the next-generation wireless technology heats up. 5G is expected to deliver a far faster and more responsive network that should supercharge a wave of new technologies including self-driving cars, streaming VR and telemedicine -- once the service actually launches.

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The carriers are eager to talk up their 5G prospects given the intense interest, as well as the opportunity for bragging rights over network superiority. Each is taking a slightly different approach in their 5G plans, using different types of radio airwaves and equipment, so some of the devices may be specific to a single carrier. 

"Today's announcement brings us one step closer to putting a beautifully designed, advanced 5G smartphone in our customers' hands," said John Saw, chief technology officer for Sprint. 

Tudhope offered a few additional details. He described the LG device as a premium smartphone. While it will have radios for different 4G networks, it's optimized only for Sprint's 5G network. He said the company is working to make sure the 5G coverage in the launch markets provides for a better experience and dismissed concerns that the next-generation network may end up being a battery drain on the phone. 

"LG has been working side by side with Sprint for nearly 20 years, and we are looking forward to expanding
this partnership with 5G," said William Cho, CEO of LG Electronics North America.

Sprint isn't the first to talk about a 5G-compatible device. Verizon has touted a 5G "Moto Mod" that would appear next year to give its Motorola Moto Z3 next-generation network capabilities. AT&T, meanwhile, plans to launch a 5G hotspot in a dozen markets this year.

Tudhope noted that Sprint's device would be the first integrated 5G phone. Sprint said the phone would be out in the first half of next year, in time for the launch of its 5G network. 

The carrier expects to launch its 5G network in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

First published Aug. 14 at 9:00 a.m. PT.
Updated at 12:03 p.m. PT:  Added information about AT&T's 5G plans.

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