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10/31/2007
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Sprint's Technology Chief: Full Speed Ahead For WiMax

Ali Tabassi says the company is continuing its rollout without interruption in spite of the fact that Sprint recently lost its chief executive.

It's damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead for Sprint Nextel's WiMax rollout, according to the firm's vice president of technology development, Ali Tabassi.

In an interview Wednesday at the VON show in Boston, Tabassi said the company is continuing its rollout without interruption in spite of the fact that Sprint recently lost its chief executive, who heavily promoted the wide area technology.

During the interview and in his presentation at the show, Tabassi pointed out that the WiMax deployment makes good sense because of price/performance advantages.

Asked also about reports that Sprint is talking with Google about using a Google operating system for Sprint mobile phones, Tabassi declined to be specific but he indicated that Google and Sprint have talked for a long time about the search engine's software being used on Sprint' mobile phones. Indeed, in July Sprint said it had been working with Google to bring search, interactive communications and social networking tools to Sprint subscribers using WiMax.

"We won't go to market with WiMax without the right eco system in place," said Tabassi. He then ticked off a long list of partners; all of them are working on Sprint's WiMax rollout. They include Intel, Motorola, Samsung, and Nokia.

"We have 10,000 sites prepared for deployment," he said. "We have 1750 base stations ordered for 2007 delivery and 20,000 antennas ordered." Tabassi added that a "soft launch" of Sprint's WiMax network is planned for December in Chicago and Washington D.C. while "friendly customers" will begin using the network in February. Commercial launch is scheduled for April and various additional sites across the U.S. will be unveiled in 2008.

Tabassi said there are significant price/performance gains to be achieved in deploying WiMax nationwide. He explained that a WiMax PC card would likely be priced at $60 versus the $200 that was charged for Wi-Fi cards when that wireless technology was introduced.

He said the WiMax 2.5 GHz band offers an excellent balance between coverage and capacity. With 10 or 20 MHz of spectrum, a cost/performance gain of 10 times over other wireless technologies can be achieved.

Tabassi also predicted that WiMax should bring about a change in how subscribers are billed as he said two year plans are likely to be phased out in favor of "pay-in-advance" billing similar to the monthly bills consumers already receive from cable and telephone companies. Another billing model could be transaction-based. Also members of a family or employees could be billed on one bill.

When Sprint's last chief executive Gary D. Forsee resigned under pressure earlier this month, many investment analysts cited the firm's expensive $5 billion commitment to WiMax deployment as the grease on the skids that led to his demise. It was also noted that Sprint's acquisition of Nextel turned out to be more onerous and expensive than originally anticipated.

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