US operator Sprint is working with device vendor LG Electronics on what it claimed will be the first true 5G smartphone to hit the country.

The pair offered scant details about the device’s specifications and release timing. However, Sprint director of product development John Tudhope told Mobile World Live the LG phone will come with 5G capabilities built in, setting it apart from early competitors such as Motorola’s Z3 phone with its clip-on 5G attachment.

Yasser Nafei, SVP of strategy and product management for LG Electronics, added the goal is to deliver a premium-tier 5G device with enhanced speed, memory, camera and battery life features in a form factor already familiar to consumers.

The phone will focus on delivering 5G service via Sprint’s 2.5GHz spectrum, but will also include advanced 4G capabilities to avoid a dramatic drop off in performance outside 5G coverage zones. Tudhope confirmed support for T-Mobile US roaming bands will also be included, but dodged a question about whether it will support mmWave spectrum Sprint’s proposed merger partner is planning to use for its own 5G deployments.

The race is on
Details of the move comes as competition among handset vendors heats up ahead of global 5G service launches expected later this year and in early 2019.

The release of the LG phone will be timed to sync up with Sprint’s rollout of 5G service in nine cities in the first half of next year. Tudhope said Sprint will heavily target marketing for the device in those early 5G cities, including: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

While the phone will initially be tooled specifically for Sprint’s network, Tudhope noted it will be up to LG to determine later whether there are opportunities to expand distribution with other operator partners.

In addition to Motorola, LG will likely be squaring off for the 5G crown with other major device vendors including Samsung.

At the recent Galaxy Note 9 launch, ZDNet reported Samsung mobile chief DJ Koh said the company is working with South Korean mobile operators on a 5G phone ahead of expected service launches there in March 2019. It is unclear whether the device will also support 5G deployments in international markets.