DENVER -- Big 5G Event -- Sprint played up future smart city and enterprise applications in its 5G development pipeline on Wednesday as both its initial commercial 5G launch and the fate of a critical merger with T-Mobile US loomed.
The fourth-largest US mobile operator plans to kick off a 5G service aimed at highly mobile users this month in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, said Mishka Dehghan, vice president of 5G development at Sprint Business. But the full benefits of 5G will only emerge over time, Dehghan said in her keynote speech Wednesday at the Big 5G Event in Denver.
She highlighted a few uses under development now. Sprint's Curiosity IoT platform, introduced last September, will power some of these applications, including smart city technologies being developed at testbeds in Greenville, N.C., and Peachtree Corners, Ga.
At the Georgia site, Sprint has deployed an urban transportation system that uses micropositioning -- a technology that uses the cellular network to do accurate, real-time location tracking of objects. Sprint has said micropositioning can provide location details of an object down to the inch, compared to GPS's 5 to 10 meter disparity. This, plus high-definition mapping, would allow autonomous vehicles to position and locate themselves, pedestrians and objects in the road to safely navigate city streets.
Dehghan also played up medical uses of 5G, though she became the second speaker here on Wednesday to downplay 5G remote surgery, once a commonly promoted application.
"We could be talking about the benefits of remote surgery, but let's face it: Remote surgery is not going to happen in a meaningful way for another few years," she said. Earlier Wednesday at the Big 5G Show, Telus CTO Ibrahim Gedeon jokingly asked how many in the audience would volunteer to be operated on via 5G.
A more useful medical application in the short term will be remote consultations with a doctor made possible by 5G's high throughput and low latency, Dehghan said. Many patients who have to wait weeks to see a doctor in person now go to the emergency room instead, she said. Being able to set up a video call quickly could cut down on those visits, she said.
However, Sprint's 5G vision partly depends on the success of its proposed merger with T-Mobile, still awaiting federal approval. Last month, the Department of Justice reportedly warned the companies that the deal is unlikely to be approved in its current form.
On Tuesday, Sprint reported a net decline of 189,000 postpaid phone subscribers and a net loss of $2.2 billion for its most recent quarter.
Why this matters
Mobile operators are banking heavily on new kinds of enterprise services to make 5G more than a faster version of today's consumer mobile services, which are highly competitive and relatively price-sensitive. Specialized services that take advantage of new 5G features could help carriers differentiate themselves and attract lucrative enterprise contracts -- while also opening up new capabilities for their business customers.