The decision by US wireless carrier Sprint-Nextel to build its future 4G high-speed network around WiMAX could give a real boost to the viability of the technology, which has plenty of promise but still lacks real standards.
Sprint, the first large carrier to truly embrace WiMAX, plans to invest $1 billion next year and as much as another $2 billion in 2008 on its WiMAX initiative. Trials could begin by the fourth quarter of next year. Company executives claim the new network will provide wireless Internet access speeds comparable to DSL and cable modem technologies, both of which are widely used in the United States,
'None of us today can envision our lives without wireless connectivity or the Internet,' said Gary Forsee, Sprint's president and CEO, in making the announcement. '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."
Forsee talked about being able to utilize the 2 megabit-to- 4 megabit-per-second download speeds to download a 10-minute video in about three minutes and create Web pages for highly popular US Web sites like YouTube.com and MySpace,com on the run.
Forsee and others believe Sprint has a two-year lead on its cellular rivals, thanks in part to the wireless spectrum it acquired with rival Nextel last year.
Sprint plans to work with WiMAX proponents Intel, Motorola and Samsung in marketing the 4G network and developing mobile WiMAX devices. Motorola and Samsung will also support Sprint's current and CDMA/EV-DO network technologies 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.
Officials expect the 4G broadband network to offer a complementary, high-bandwidth service driven by data centric devices.
Sprint currently is the third largest wireless carrier in the US, lagging both Cingular and Verizon Wireless, but it leads in wireless data revenue, an advantage Forsee intends to keep through the expensive and somewhat risky 4G rollout.
Sprint's action will certainly have a wide impact on the wireless industry both in the US and around the world. It could spur rivals to get on the WiMAX bandwagon, It could cause investors to take the technology much more seriously. It seems destined to enable a variety of new wireless applications and open up new revenue potential for Sprint and its partners. And it may well steal some of the thunder from Wi-Fi, which is finally gaining traction in the US market as hundreds of municipalities*join with service providers to operate Wi-Fi networks. Still, the question of whether the public actually will embrace WiMAX remains to be answered during the next few years.
(Al Senia is editor of America's Network)