4G World: Sprint's First-Mover Mixed Bag

CHICAGO -- 4G World -- Even while admitting the early days had their pitfalls, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) won't let anyone forget that it was the first to market with 4G and that it has the largest (or only) 4G device portfolio of any of its competitors.

Most of the attention at 4G World is going to Long Term Evolution (LTE). But WiMax flag-waver Sprint does have some room to brag, with 15 dual-mode 3G/4G devices in its portfolio, including two additions that Bob Azzi, Sprint senior vice president of networks, touted in his keynote address today.

They include a Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL) netbook and notebook -- the Windows 76 Inspiron Mini 10 and Dell Inspiron 11z, respectively -- that will run on its 3G and 4G networks where available. Both go on sale Nov. 14 and require two-year service plans of $59.99 per month for unlimited 4G data and 5GB of 3G data.

Azzi especially played up the importance of WiMax devices in the enterprise, for two-way videoconferencing, HD video streaming, and other media-rich mobile apps.

Sprint's also pushing its 4G network into machine-to-machine (M2M) devices. Of particular interest, Azzi said, is the healthcare industry. It only spends 2 to 3 percent of its revenue on IT, compared to the norm of 6 to 8 percent. But that number is expected to grow by 44 percent in the next four years, he said, citing an Insight Research Corp. report.

Azzi said wireless technologies will account for almost two thirds of planned annual spending, as hospitals and medical companies are investing in smartphone and tablet technologies. Today, for example, Sprint announced that its 4G handsets, the High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) Evo and the Samsung Corp. Epic, will run the Remote Patient Monitoring apps from mobile medical software company AirStrip.

Interestingly, while Azzi was busy talking up Sprint's head start, Sprint's president of 4G, Matt Carter, admitted to ComputerWorld that Sprint lost customers in its early deployments because of spotty WiMax coverage, partly as a result of its relationship with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR).

Since then, however, WiMax has grown to 55 markets covering more than 63 million people. On Nov. 1, New York will be the next Sprint, Clearwire, and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) WiMax market to launch. (See Clearwire Sets Big City 4G Launch Dates and Sprint: 4G Is in the Air for NYC.)

"We are really at a pivotal point," Azzi said. "Soon we'll see other carriers catching up, but we've been here since September 2008 [in Baltimore], and we're moving towards 100 million people covered."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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