Sprint, Verizon Prepping 4G Announcements

The leading 4G service providers are hoping to grab attention at CTIA this week, Sprint by unveiling its first WiMax handset, and Verizon for details on its nationwide LTE rollout.
The two leading 4G service providers -- Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless -- are planning important announcements at this week's CTIA conference in Las Vegas, with each carrier hoping to upstage the other.

Through its majority interest in Clearwire, Sprint is expected to be the first major U.S. wireless carrier to have a 4G voice-capable handset for its emerging WiMax network, now offered in several U.S. cities. The company is expected to unveil its first WiMax HTC-manufactured handset, currently called the Supersonic.

At the same time, Verizon Wireless, which is 55% owned by Verizon Communications, is planning announcements around its coming LTE nationwide network. The Verizon unit, which is 45% owned by Vodafone Group, has scheduled an announcement with VoIP provider Skype. While a Verizon spokesperson declined Monday to discuss details of the announcement, she confirmed it wouldn't be difficult to upgrade the carrier's recently announced Skype-Verizon CDMA service to accommodate LTE devices.

"The CTIA Wireless convention is the perfect setting to focus on the important behind-the-scenes work we are doing with more than 25 partners to bring 4G LTE to life," said Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of the Verizon unit. "Our progress is good, and we're confident that the next generation of wireless network technology will deliver the speed, reliability, and bandwidth that businesses, government, and consumers have been anticipating."

McAdam said the firm's engineers, along with equipment vendors, backhaul providers, and device experts, have been working to launch the 4G LTE network later this year. Verizon Wireless is planning to launch its LTE network in one fell swoop in 25 to 30 markets, while Clearwire has been deploying its 4G network piecemeal, building experience along the way.

Clearwire also has the advantage of drawing on the experience of scores of WiMax networks already deployed globally. HTC, for instance, has developed 4G WiMax handsets for other carriers like the WiMax touch handset it developed for Russia's Scartel WiMax network in 2008.

With so much information already revealed on the hardware, all eyes will be on Clearwire's pricing. The company currently charges $59.99 a month for unlimited Internet access. The pricing of the voice calling feature should attract new attention and will likely set a precedent for other carriers as they provide 4G calling.

When Verizon Wireless announced its partnership with Skype last month, the big story was that the Skype service can operate on Verizon's CDMA smartphones and it's a relatively short trip from CDMA to LTE technology. Previously Skype provided VoIP calling on various GSM carrier networks. Skype and Verizon Wireless developed their VoIP calling capability plan together, the firms said.