Sprint's Got WiMax Plans

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) may use WiMax metropolitan area technology to provide high-speed wireless broadband services in the coming years.

The operator, which joined the WiMax Forum this week, says it hopes to start beta testing WiMax equipment towards the end of this year (see Sprint Joins WiMax Forum). Oliver Valente, VP of technology development at Sprint, says the carrier is looking at WiMax as a potential way of delivering wireless voice, video, and data services, "beyond what mobile can offer."

Sprint's wireless arm is currently in the process of rolling out CDMA EV-DO services that offer average downloads speeds of 300 to 500 kbit/s. Since no actual WiMax network is up and running yet, it's hard to say exactly what download speeds will be. But most WiMax people that Unstrung has spoken to expect to see average downloads speeds of around 1 Mbit/s.

Sprint is well placed to offer cable-like broadband wireless services in the U.S. "We have a large bandwidth of spectrum available," notes Valente. Indeed, once the merger with Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) is completed, the operator will have 90MHz of 2.5GHz spectrum, covering 80 markets.

The operator has tested other wireless technologies, such as the broadband offering from Flarion Technologies, in its bid to offer speedier wireless services. But, at the moment, Valente says that WiMax is the leading contender.

Valente says Sprint is hoping that WiMax will become a "global, open technology standard."

Valente didn't say exactly when Sprint would be able to start WiMax services, if the tests run smoothly. But, given the recent delays in the WiMax's Forum's testing process, most vendors now expect to deliver initial WiMax product very late in 2005 or early in 2006.

Given the 12 to 18 months it usually takes major carriers to road-test such equipment, it might be reasonable to expect to see initial Sprint WiMax services in the second half of 2007.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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