Sprint Firms Up WiMax Plans

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) says it could start rolling out commercial WiMax services late in 2007 or early in 2008 after initial tests later this year.

Sprint has just announced it will collaborate with chipmaker Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) on advancing the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)'s 802.16e mobile metropolitan-area specification, through equipment and interoperability testing, and work on the technical spec (see Sprint, Intel Test WiMax).

The 802.16 standard forms the basis for the WiMax specifications -- 802.16d for the initial fixed-wireless spec, 802.16e for applications -- that will allow the user to transfer between base stations at driving speeds without losing the connection. Since no actual WiMax network is up and running yet, it's hard to say exactly what download speeds will be. But most people that Unstrung has spoken to expect to see download speeds start at around 1 Mbit/s.

As Unstrung reported in February, Sprint has been planning WiMax trials for some time (see Sprint's Got WiMax Plans). "We are looking at the fixed and portable solutions in addition to the mobile solution," confirms Oliver Valente, VP of technology development at Sprint.

"We seek to do trials late this year and into next year, using pre-commercial versions of the technology. I think realistically we would be looking at having commercialized equipment available probably late '07 early '08, which is the earliest we will realistically be in a position to deploy it. In that kind of timeframe, we would expect to have .16e available, which we expect to support fixed, portable, and mobile capabilities."

Valente can't -- or won't -- say which vendors he expects to supply equipment for the tests. "We have RFIs and RFQs out on the street as we speak that are asking for vendor delivery schedules and capabilities to meet our needs." He also declined to comment on how much the tests would cost.

Of all the U.S. carriers, Sprint is probably the best placed to roll out this kind of wireless broadband technology because it already has 2.5GHz spectrum available to support such services.

But Sprint is not the only U.S. operator that's hopped onto the WiMax bandwagon. Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T Corp.'s (NYSE: T) CTO and president of AT&T Research Labs, this week described WiMax as "the next-generation access technology" that's most likely to become "a global standard." (See Eslambolchi: WiMax Booming .)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, and Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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