CTIA & the Future of 4G

The possibility of a renewed partnership between Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), which may be funded by big cable companies, is likely to be the talk of the CTIA show in Las Vegas this week.

But it won't be the only talking point: The evolution of 4G and the usefulness of femtocells are also going to be hot topics for carriers and vendors in Sin City.

News broke last week that Sprint and Clearwire could re-ignite a partnership to jointly deploy WiMax in the U.S., and may announce the rekindling of their relationship at this week's show. The venture may even be funded by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and other cable operators, or so the speculation goes. (See Analyst: WiMax Might Scratch Cable's Wireless Itch.) "I think that CTIA this year will feature a lot of news around WiMax and Sprint/Clearwire," says industry analyst Jack Gold at J.Gold Associates.

"I would bet they will announce some major new partnerships, along the lines of the rumored cable company investments. They have a major press conference scheduled for Tuesday. I also expect there will be a number of prototype phones and Web devices using Xohm [Sprint's WiMax service] at the event." (See CES: Sprint's in the XOHM.)

Carmi Levy, senior VP for strategic consulting at AR Communications Inc. , agrees that WiMax will be on the menu at CTIA, but argues that people should take a realistic view of the technology. "In the near term, incumbent players and technologies will continue to dominate."

"The WiMax story, in fact, won't change significantly after the last CTIA keynote has been delivered," he continues. "This is a technology that has held so much promise for so long, but has been hampered by stillborn announcements and technological challenges." That opens the door for another 4G technology, Long-Term Evolution (LTE), to make a splash at the show. "CTIA should help air some of the dirty laundry currently flying around between the two camps," says Levy. "Don't expect any quick answers pointing to a long-term victor in this war, however."

Analyst Gold also expects femtocells to be a key theme at the show. (See Femtocells: The Wireline Killer?)

"It is early on in the marketplace for this, but femtocells -- and microcells -- will be a key addition to wireless in the next two to three years, as prices for equipment decline and as users demand better coverage and services." says Gold.

"There will be lots of cells on display and I wouldn't be surprised to see some announcements from major carriers about this, as well as potentially major vendors getting involved," such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Linksys ."

Femtocells are mostly being tested by European and Asian carriers at present. (See Vodafone Eyes Femto Service This Year, T-Mobile Invests in Femto Firm, TeliaSonera Preps Femto Trial, Femtocells Brace for Big 2008, and 3G & WiMax Femtocells: The Operator View.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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