RealTime IT News

Sprint Embraces WiMAX

Sprint Nextel  today announced plans to build a high-speed fourth-generation wireless network based on 802.16e  mobile WiMAX, becoming the first U.S. carrier to put its muscle and money behind this evolving technology.

Sprint Nextel President and CEO Gary Forsee said Sprint Nextel, working with Intel , Motorola  and Samsung, will make a $1 billion investment in 2007 and nearly double that amount in 2008.

"4G is all about lighting up devices, like portable game systems, digital still and video cameras, DVD and MP3 players, diagnostic devices and navigations systems and devices you probably don't think about linking wirelessly to the Internet today," explained Forsee.

"We will link consumers to consumers and businesses to business."

The planned WiMAX network will offer download speeds ranging from 2 megabits per second (Mbps) to 4 Mbps, which is about four times faster than Sprint's EVDO 3G cellular networks.

In practicality, this means subscribers will be able to download a 10-minute video to a wireless mobile player in about 100 seconds, Forsee said.

WiMAX and other IP-based wireless technologies are roughly one-tenth the cost of cellular systems, he claimed.

Despite the performance and advantages, Foresee was careful to point out the WiMAX effort will not interfere with Sprint's plans to evolve its current EVDO The WiMAX system will, however, operate over the same 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) frequencies owned by Sprint, which now serves 85 percent of the households in the top U.S. market areas, he added.

Sprint claims to be the largest provider of EVDO services in the U.S.

Partners in the company's WiMAX effort include Motorola, which already has more than a dozen mobile WiMAX trials outside the U.S., said Motorola CEO Ed Zander, who took part in the New York press conference.

One of these trials will kick off this September in Japan with broadband services provider Softbank.

The five-month deployment will test the performance, reliability and range of mobile WiMAX, as well as the speed of network hand-offs between access points, said Motorola.

As part of the trial, Motorola will provide five WiMAX access points and 25 prototype WiMAX mobile handheld devices, said Raghu Rau, Motorola's senior vice president of networking and enterprise strategy.

"The purpose of the trial is to see how WiMAX performs in a mobile environment and a dense urban deployment," he noted.

Sprint partners Samsung Electronics and Intel have also invested time and money in 802.16e mobile WiMAX trials worldwide.

All of these companies will work with Sprint Nextel to develop WiMAX chipsets, devices and infrastructure to support the companies' planned 4G roll out, which is expected to be available to more than 100 million people by 2008, Forsee said.

He stopped short of saying just how much money each player was putting on the table, except to note it will be "significant."

Interest in mobile WiMAX is presently driven by a number of factors, ranging from the promise of mobile broadband speeds to lower costs and improved reliability.

Its success, however, depends on how it is used and the need for mobile speed by wireless subscribers.

"Whether or not that turns out to be more smoke than fire still remains to be seen," said Carl Blume, product manager with wireless developer Colubris Networks.

He believes developers will first use mobile WiMAX as an infrastructure for public and private municipal wireless networks, although putting too much effort in the public route may be a tactical mistake.