Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
3/7/2011
02:17 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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Will Sprint Dump WiMax For LTE?

If Sprint doesn't announce new WiMax gear at CTIA Wireless, you can count WiMax out of the 4G game -- at least from Sprint.

Sprint has been preparing its investors, partners, and customers for a titanic shift from WiMax to Long Term Evolution for nearly a year now. It was last April when both Clearwire -- Sprint's WiMax partner in crime -- and Sprint made mention that it would be possible to switch from WiMax to LTE without too much trouble. Since then, the statements, quotes, and hints haven't stopped.

Here's a primer of how things have unfolded during the last year:

In July, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said, "We have the spectrum resources where we could add LTE if we choose to do that, on top of the WiMAX network. The beauty of having a lot of spectrum is we have a lot of flexibility."

Speaking of Sprint's 4G plans in October, Sprint said that for now it is sticking with "Plan A" -- its partnership with Clearwire. However, it does have a "Plan B" option should WiMax not work out. Sprint didn't elaborate on what Plan B is.

Speaking last month at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, Sprint executives said that the company will evaluate how its customers migrate from CDMA to WiMax over the next four to six months. It will then analyze that data and decide whether or not to stay with WiMax or switch to Long Term Evolution. It will also take into cons078ideration how best to use its spectrum assets for 4G services.

Steve Elfman, Sprint's president of network operations, told investors last week that if the company decides to switch from WiMax to LTE, it could light up the network and have devices available as soon as 2012 and have nationwide coverage by 2013. Elfman repeated that Sprint is still evaluating its 4G network position and that it will make a decision by the middle of the year about a potential network technology switch. Elfman said that Sprint is still in negotiations with Clearwire about the future of their joint WiMax network.

If those few nuggets aren't enough for you, consider this: Sprint hasn't announced or launched any new WiMax markets since December, and it hasn't announced or launched any new WiMax equipment since January (at CES). Sprint has only three WiMax handsets to-date: the HTC Evo 4G, the Samsung Epic 4G, and the HTC Evo Shift 4G. The Evo -- its first WiMax handset -- was initially announced almost a year ago at the CTIA Wireless 2010 show. (See where I'm going with this?)

Sprint has promised big things at a press conference scheduled for March 22 at the CTIA Wireless trade show in Orlando, Fla. If Sprint does not use that opportunity to announce new WiMax phones and/or modems, I think the writing will be plainly on the wall.

Sprint is going to dump WiMax in favor of LTE.

Sprint has been attempting to soften the blow to its partners forever. Sprint can't afford to wait any longer. It either has to plow forward and commit to WiMax 110%, or bail on it and switch to LTE.

What's it going to be, Sprint?

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