WiMax: The Final Questions

If you had any lingering doubts that Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) was serious about getting its mobile WiMax network up and running, the carrier's Technology Day last Thursday should have dispelled them.

Sprint is spending $2.5 billion through 2008 on the network, including new backhaul installations. Lots of major cities in the U.S. will start getting service next spring.

It is going to be a fascinating proving ground for the technology. Basically, we've been able to see all the demonstrations of WiMax we could ever want, but now we'll really get to find out if it's ready for prime-time.

I imagine that, with megabits of data flying over the air, backhaul could start to be a big issue. The operator said on the Tech Day call that it's looking at fiber and other options to bulk up its back-end capacity. (See Sprint's Ready to XOHM Out.) Clearly, Sprint wants to get this up and running in cities first in order to build up a customer base. We wonder, however, how much they will invest in providing backhaul for more rural deployments when the time comes to roll them out. That could require some serious upgrades from the T1 lines that are still prevalent today.

Supporting a mass user base will not be a problem for Sprint, initially anyway. If the example of WiBro in South Korea is any example, it takes a little while for the mobile broadband concept to catch on.

KT Corp. (a.k.a. Korea Telecom) is expected to break 100,000 users by the end of the year. When the service was launched in 2006, however, the operator was initially struggling to find any users.

I also have to wonder exactly how people will react to the XOHM branding that Sprint and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) are going to market the service under. (See Sprint's Ready to XOHM Out.) I know it's always hard to brand services, but XOHM makes me think of some mystery pill they advertise on TV (Ask your doctor about XOHM!) rather than anything particularly wireless.

I suppose we'll have to wait and see what the side-effects of the brand are.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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