Sprint Nextel to launch 4 Mb WiMax network in Q4 2007

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

New York (NY) - Sprint Nextel aims to become the first nationwide WiMax provider in the U.S. The company today announced plans to deploy its next-generation "4G" network that will combine regular CDMA phone capability with EVDO services and WiMax wireless broadband with an anticipated launch date of Q4 2007 and an estimated reached of 100 million customers in 2008.

Sprint Nextel is of the first of the four major cellular network providers to confirm a commercial deployment of WiMax technology. According to the company, the network will be based on the IEEE 802.16e-2005 (Mobile WiMax) technology standard and operate in the 2.5 GHz spectrum, which recently was adjusted by the Federal Communications Commission for mobile broadband use.

Sprint Nextel promises average download speeds of 2 to 4 Mb/s, which the company says is about four times faster than today's available EVDO services. The service is planned to become available in all of Sprint Nextel's serviced areas, covering about 85% of households of U.S. metropolitan markets. Gary Forsee, president and chief executive officer of Sprint Nextel, told the audience at the unveiling of the project that the launch of the network is scheduled for the fourth quarter of next year. The company aims for a quick expansion and wants to make the service available to about 100 million people in the U.S. by the end of 2008.

Referred to as "4G" technology, Forsee considers WiMax as the next big stage for mobile connectivity. "None of us today can envision our lives without wireless connectivity or the Internet," explained Forsee. "Sprint Nextel is taking a major step forward by linking the incredible potential of these two cornerstones of daily communications. We'll give customers the power to harness business information and personal entertainment easily and inexpensively - and in ways that they will one day wonder how they lived without."

Exact pricing of the service remains unclear at this time. But chief technology officer Gary West mentioned that the service may be cheaper than initial DSL services. "Back at the introduction of DSL, we said that 1 GB of data transfer will be offered for less than $20 a month. WiMax will cost significantly less."

Intel's "Rosedale" WiMax chip

Sprint Nextel provided plenty of examples why WiMax could be a useful addition to mobile devices. Applications may include instant photo sharing via cellphones, video casting and video chats, video conferencing and online gaming. The company also believes that the technology will encourage people to create a substantial amount of content, which will be supported by a "high-performance uplink." However, the feature set of devices remains unclear at this time. According to a Sprint Nextel spokeswoman, there are plans for "dual-mode" products - devices that support EVDO as well as WiMax. However, it appears that Sprint will be offering mobile products that will rely on WiMax only and on a combined WiMax/cellphone functionality as well. There was little information on how these products will look like, but Forsee said that we should look for "groundbreaking products" to be announced in the coming months.

Joining Forsee on stage were executives from Samsung, Intel and Motorola - all of which confirmed their support for the project. Especially Sean Maloney, Intel's former executive vice president for the firm's mobility group and recently appointed chief sales and marketing officer, may feel relieved that a major carrier finally announces WiMax deployment plans. Heading up Intel's mobility group, Maloney pushed and promoted WiMax over the past years in an effort to convince providers that WiMax may not only be a threat to traditional communications and Internet connectivity, but also a revenue opportunity for carriers. Sprint Nextel apparently is first to agree: "Mobile broadband is a revenue opportunity that has been waiting for the right technology," said West in his presentation.

Intel was first to develop and actually demonstrate a WiMax chip, previously code-named "Rosedale," at its developer forum in Spring of this year. Back then, the company said that it will have WiMax broadband cards available in the second half of 2006. Maloney did not confirm this claim at today's Sprint Nextel event, but mentioned that "2 years from now the "PC will have changed" into smaller and lighter form factor for less money.

Sprint Nextel said that it expects to invest about $3 billion into its WiMax network.