Secret plan to end the war in WiMAX?

SK Telecom today denied that it was scheming to buy all or part of Sprint-Nextel, after a rumour surged the price of S/N shares. It was always a slightly unlikely suggestion – Sprint is about three times as big by market capitalisation, but it was suggested they might gear up with the help of private equity funds.

Perhaps the secret to the story was that there is indeed a connection – not only does SK own part of Helio, an MVNO that floats atop Sprint’s CDMA net, but there’s the WiMAX factor. Sprint-Nextel is building the world’s biggest WiMAX network. South Korea is WiMAX Central – so much of the 802.16e standard consists of technology developed at Samsung Electronics, which is one of the biggest manufacturers of WiMAX kit. There are a couple of major deployments – one of them at SK Telecom.

And Samsung is the main infrastructure supplier for Sprint-Nextel’s big deployment. Just to add spice to the conspiracy theory, let’s not forget that Sprint is apparently getting cold feet about the costs of WiMAX deployment – the official costing is $3bn, but only a couple of weeks ago, we reported that the carrier is looking for partners to invest in the job.

So far, it’s been cable operators and content providers who Sprint has been trying to tap for cash. Why not a trade buyer? Well, what’s in it for SK? The answer is “nothing much” – a speculative investment in low-margin IP service in a high-penetration market. However, South Korea is even more phoned-out than the US.

It’s a pity the story actually seems to be untrue.


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