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Mobile

Sprint Preps WiBro Trial

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) is to flirt with WiBro in an effort to find its technology partner of choice for a future nationwide rollout of wireless broadband services in the 2.5GHz spectrum band.

The carrier today announced it is to trial WiBro kit from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC). (See Samsung Mobilizes WiBro.) Developed in South Korea, WiBro is derived from the 802.16e specification that will form the basis of mobile WiMax technology. Local carriers KT Corp. and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) have already committed to launching commercial WiBro networks in 2006. Today’s announcement marks WiBro’s first move out of its home market.

Details of Sprint’s trial remain sketchy at present, but company spokesman John Polivka says the service will be offered “later this year and into next.”

“We’ll start with lab testing and then move to internal usage and then field trials.” Information on exact locations and potential subscriber numbers was not forthcoming. “We are in the very early stages.”

Of course, Sprint’s interest in WiBro is not a major surprise in light of its future network commitments. Following its recent merger with Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL), the carrier is under orders from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to offer wireless broadband services to at least 30 million Americans in the next six years (see Sprint Nextel Preps Wireless BB). The merged company now has a near-nationwide footprint of lucrative 2.5GHz spectrum (the spectrum formerly known as MMDS), which could support a variety of wireless broadband services.

Neither Sprint nor Nextel is a stranger to emerging wireless technologies. To date, Nextel has tested kit from Flarion Technologies and IPWireless Inc., while Sprint has announced plans to test WiMax products from Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). (See Nextel Flashes With Flarion, Nextel Trials IPWireless, and Sprint Picks Moto for WiMax.)

Sprint’s Polivka claims the WiBro deal “fits with our technology exploration... It’s all geared towards establishing the viability of a market offering.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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