Sprint bets $3bn on mobile WiMAX

US carrier Sprint Nextel Tuesday confirmed plans to develop and deploy a mobile WiMAX IEEE 802.16e network in the 2.5GHz band.

Sprint has signed up Intel, Motorola and Samsung to develop a nationwide network infrastructure as well as mobile WiMAX-enabled chipsets for consumer electronics. Gary Forsee, president and chief executive of Sprint Nextel said the company is expecting to invest $1bn in 2007 and between $1.5bn and $2bn in 2008 in the mobile broadband network. WiMAX is expected to offer a cost-per-megabit and performance advantage against comparable costs for current 3G mobile broadband offerings, Forsee said.

The company’s deployment plans target a launch of the 4G wireless broadband services in trial markets by the end of 2007 with plans to deploy a network that reaches as many as 100 million people in 2008. The carrier’s extensive 2.5GHz spectrum assets already cover 85 per cent of households in the top 100 US markets.

However, the company asserted its intention to continue to invest in its existing cdma2000 1x EV-DO mobile broadband networks by upgrading it to Revision A. Motorola and Samsung will support EV-DO network by creating multimode devices that will support services on both the 4G network and the 3G network in areas outside the planned 4G coverage, and will provide voice service using the core 3G network.

Samsung will be the primary WiMAX infrastructure supplier and will also deliver dual-mode devices supporting mobile WiMAX and EV-DO. Motorola will also provide infrastructure and devices, while Intel will deliver WiMAX solutions for its Centrino Mobile Technology.

Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis commented that the announcement “seems to suggest is that Sprint is deciding to focus its new EV-DO Rev. A network (due to be deployed from end-2006) for voice – maybe cellular VoIP”. Reading between the lines, Bubley believes a broader move is occurring, polarising networks to device categories with 3.5G networks predominantly focused on cellphones, with a smattering of data cards and supporting handset-centric applications, while 4G will predominantly be used for data devices and in-house services following a more IT/internet centric philosophy.

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