Seeking to build on the momentum for its ambitious nationwide WiMax network, Sprint Nextel said Thursday it will partner with Google to provide users of the network with Web services from the search giant, including e-mail, chat, and social networking tools.
The two companies said they will work together to develop a new mobile Internet portal over WiMax that will enable access to many of the Google services.
Sprint said last week it will collaborate with well-funded startup Clearwire to build out the national wireless broadband network. The companies will not build out the network together in specific locales but will independently install and light up infrastructure in the territories they've already targeted, and enable roaming between the two systems. They will also exchange selected 2.5-GHz spectrum in certain areas to optimize the network's performance.
While it gives Sprint's WiMax effort the imprimatur of the premier provider of search and other Web-based applications, Thursday's announcement was notably short on specifics. Analyst Nick Holland, with the Aite Group, called it "a deliberately vague press release in some ways."
For Google, the deal provides access to Sprint WiMax subscribers who will presumably be eager to use the Web-based tools on the go, at no or little cost. "I think Google is prepared to work with anybody who can give them access to WiMax spectrum," observed Holland.
Google has long been interested in making its Web tools available to mobile users and has become publicly involved in the debate over the upcoming auction of 700-MHz spectrum. Last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the company would commit at least $4.6 billion to bid in the auction, expected before the end of the year, as long as the FCC pursues an "open network" model for distributing the system that would bar the major wireless carriers from controlling access to the new spectrum in the way they have controlled the cellular networks. Along with other Silicon Valley companies plus a startup, Frontline Wireless, headed by two former FCC chairmen, Google has called for the spectrum auction to produce a "third pipe" not limited to the four largest U.S. carriers.
The Sprint agreement is Google's closest alliance with a major U.S. wireless operator.
Sprint, meanwhile, gets a set of compelling new services to offer over its WiMax network, which will offer speeds five times faster than existing wireless networks in mobile or fixed settings.
"If you think of the Internet, you automatically think of Google," Barry West, president of Sprint's 4G mobile broadband unit, told Reuters. "Obviously, having a powerful partner on the Internet helps us become synonymous with the mobile Internet."
Sprint said it will combine its technology for detecting users' physical locations with Google's tools to provide powerful location-based applications. Sprint plans WiMax trials in the Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. areas by the end of this year, with commercial service expected in several markets next spring.