WiMAX Wherever I May Roam?


WiMAX, a technology that enables high-speed Internet access on mobile
devices that is much faster than current cellular service, took its next
step toward becoming a reality.


Phone carrier Sprint Nextel and wireless provider
Clearwire today agreed to build the first
nationwide mobile broadband network using WiMAX
technology, a move that will soup up Web access on
mobile devices should the network come to fruition in 2008 as expected.


WiMAX, which operates more than five times faster than today’s wireless
networks, can allow workers to conduct live video conferences from remote
locations, or let consumers play whole movies via laptops, mobile phones and
other handheld devices.


Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff said on a conference call the
joint network will give Sprint and Clearwire enhanced services and
capabilities that “are well beyond the capabilities that either company
expected to offer on its own.”


“The ability to have mobile end user devices that are always on and always
with the person and that have the benefit of true broadband speed will
enable a whole new generation of Internet-based services, content and
applications,” Wolff said.


In a 20-year deal with three 10-year renewal periods, Sprint Nextel will
target areas covering approximately 185 million people. Clearwire will focus
on areas covering approximately 115 million people.


The two companies, which will market mobile WiMAX services under a common
service brand, expect to roll out WiMAX for 100 million people by the end of
2008, with roaming enabled between areas where the WiMAX network has been
deployed.


While Sprint Nextel will take the lead in establishing relationships with
national distributors and other strategic partners, Clearwire will be able
to offer Sprint’s 3G voice and data services as part of a bundle or on a
standalone basis to its customers.


The deal also calls for Sprint and Clearwire to exchange 2.5GHz radio
spectrum so each company may build out its portion of the network.


Wolff added that the two companies will work together to ensure network
interoperability and to propel the WiMAX ecosystem by working with multiple
vendors and OEMs, including Motorola , Samsung and Nokia
, on PCs, handsets and consumer electronics that can
leverage a mobile WiMAX network.


Sprint, which pledged last
August to make a $1 billion investment in WiMax and reaffirmed
its commitment at NXTcomm last month, expects to begin rolling out its first
mobile WiMAX network deployments by the end of 2007.


Industry analysts were optimistic about the deal.


“It is about time that this happened,” Yankee Group analyst Philip Marshall
told internetnews.com in an e-mail. “It certainly makes sense and
creates greater capital concentration for the network roll out, which is
critical for WiMAX at this stage.”


Marshall also said the deal could be the precursor for closer relationships
between the two companies and the possibility for Sprint’s 4G business to be
spun off and merged with Clearwire.


But before that even happens, Sprint and Clearwire hope to close the current
deal in the next 60 days, barring any resistance from the Department of
Justice or Federal Communications Commission, which must approve spectrum
license assignments and transfers.


Such approval is hardly a foregone conclusion these days, with the winds of
uncertainty and controversy swirling around wireless spectrum allocation.


In January, the FCC will auction a large chunk of 700MHz spectrum, space
being vacated by television broadcasters as part of the digital TV
transition, which is highly coveted by Sprint, AT&T and
Verizon .


FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is proposing anyone who wins the spectrum must
make it an open access network, meaning consumers can attach any legal
device and run any legal application on the network. This does not please
the telecoms, which don’t want open access for fear of losing control of the
network.


Meanwhile, with the WiMAX pact, Sprint would seem to gain a competitive edge
versus AT&T and Verizon, which don’t yet have the same WiMAX clout.
Clearwire, created by pioneer Craig McCaw, went public in March and is
looking to build on its fast start.


The company agreed to let
satellite TV providers DirectTV and EchoStar offer their customer wireless
Internet service.


Roy Mark, internetnews.com Washington bureau chief, contributed to this report.

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