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Sprint Nextel Hunts for 2.5GHz Service

Carmen Nobel
News Analysis
Carmen Nobel

LAS VEGAS -- CTIA -- As a condition of approving the recent merger between Sprint and Nextel, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required the merged company to begin offering service in the 2.5GHz band to at least 15 million Americans by 2009 and to 15 million more by 2011.

So is the 2.5GHz band ready to deploy services?

Not quite, says Larry Lang, general manager and vice president of the mobile wireless group at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) who works closely with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). Because 2.5GHz runs on a relatively high frequency, it faces range issues: It has a narrow range, because the higher the frequency, the shorter range.

"Anything they deployed right now would be crap," Lang says. He adds that chips that can make up for the deficiencies of the spectrum should be ready within a few years.

Sprint Nextel officials say they'll use the spectrum, but they have yet to say how. The company will announce its 2.5GHz plans "sometime mid-year," says Vicki Warker, vice president of business solutions marketing and products at Sprint Nextel, based in Overland Park, Kan. Sprint Nextel owns the majority of U.S. spectrum in the band.

What would the spectrum be used for? The choice likely will come down to some version of CDMA or WiMax -- the WiMAX Forum has said it may certify some products in the 2.5GHz band by the end of the year. Sprint Nextel plans trials of WiMax in the band in the second half of 2006, using equipment from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), but has yet to commit.

"The logical thing would be for Sprint to do some version of CDMA, but there's the issue that Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is the Tony Soprano of CDMA," Lang jokes. "But Sprint could go to Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) [for WiMax] and get production."

"I don't expect them to do WiMax," says Phil Redman, research vice president of mobile and wireless at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "They've already invested a lot in IPWireless."

Indeed, in two rounds of funding, Sprint Nextel has put $14 million into IPWireless Inc. , a San Bruno, Calif., company that offers mobile broadband services over UMTS TD-CDMA. Sprint Nextel is in trials with IPWireless's equipment in the Washington, D.C., area. But the folks at IP Wireless are making no predictions that they will be the chosen one.

"It's not like we know and we're not telling," says Madelyn Smith Orfitelli, director of corporate communications at IPWireless. "They really haven't made a decision yet."

— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:58:20 AM
re: Sprint Nextel Hunts for 2.5GHz Service
How much did they pay for this spectrum anyways? Why would they try so hard to use this?
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:58:17 AM
re: Sprint Nextel Hunts for 2.5GHz Service
Sprint appears to be banking the spectrum, to keep the band from being used to compete wits its other services. This is something the current FCC supports, because it makes auctioned spectrum more valuable (scarcity = high prices) and helps their clients, the incumbents. The Public Be Damned.

The 2.5 GHz band is not suitable for CDMA, because that's based on Frequency Division Duplex, and the 2.5 band is not laid out to facilitate it. The band is going to be rearranged, but neither the old nor new layout is good for FDD. WiMAX, on the other hand, is a good TDD (time division) technology, that can run on a single channel of selectable width.

For Sprint to meet its initial commitment, it basically needs roughly one site on the Empire State Building and one on the Sears Tower. That will theoretically cover enough of a population footprint. Maybe a third on Mt. Wilson, though LA sprawls awfully far. This won't support many users but then I doubt they want to bother to support many users. That's what their PCS network is for.
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