Sprint will buy 10 MHz of spectrum from Wirefree Partners III for $105 million to boost its coverage in 16 markets, the carrier noted in a newly filed quarterly report. Wirefree Partners was formed by former executives of Sprint affiliate AirGate PCS, which was acquired by Alamosa Holdings, which Sprint then purchased. In 2005, during the Federal Communications Commission's broadband PCS Auction 58, Wirefree paid around $150 million for 16 licenses covering a little over 18 million points of presence (POPs). Besides Sprint, Verizon Wireless and Leap Wireless were the other major bidders in Auction 58.
Note that Sprint re-sells Clearwire's WiMAX network and owns over 51% of that company. Currently Sprint/Clearwire's WiMAX network is operational in 43 markets with more markets to be ope by the end of 2010. The HTC EVO 4G is the first 3G/WiMAX smart phone sold by Sprint. The carrier also plans to introduce a second 3G/4G smart phone – the Samsung Epic– by August 31st. Many other operators around the world have also deployed first generation WiMAX networks, but none really have attained critical mass.
Last week, Clearwire announced it would be testing LTE on Samsung Electronics’ common base station platform, which it currently uses for its mobile WiMAX deployments. During the trials, Clearwire says it will collaborate with WiMAX IC leader Beceem (and other partners) to determine the “best methods for enabling end-user devices to take advantage of a potential multi-mode WiMAX/LTE network.” Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow has said that LTE over Clearwire's network could offer speeds between 20M bit/sec. and 70M bit/sec., compared with 5M bit/sec. to 12M bit/sec. from other LTE operators. The difference is because Clearwire has so much radio spectrum to use.
Will Sprint follow suit and trial LTE? In a recent interview, Matt Carter, the head of Sprint's 4G unit, declined to discuss whether the carrier might test LTE technology. He told Computer World, "Our position is that we are singularly focused around WiMAX, and there's no wavering on that view from us."
"Does the amount of wireless spectrum [Sprint has available] give us the opportunity in some time to to convert to LTE or run LTE alongside WiMax? Yes. We built the 4G network in a manner to give us that flexibility," Carter said. "But we don't want to confuse the market and our ecosystem of suppliers and customers. We are deploying WiMAX."
Carter said various critics of Sprint, including some noted analysts, were wrong to criticize Sprint for launching "4G" service with WiMAX. "There's clearly a possibility that we could make this WiMax available for prepay as well, and we're looking to extend our leadership in prepay. So there's no reason to believe WiMax will only be postpay," Carter said.
For more, please see 4G czar at Sprint backs WiMax 'singularly'
AW Comment: We have been saying for a very long time that WiMAX 2.0 (IEEE 802.16m) would be DoA unless WiMAX 1.0 (IEEE 802.16e-2005) gained market traction. That's not happening. We were looking at Russia, Japan, Taiwan for leadership with India a potential dark horse. Critical market mass has not been obtained yet, so I think it is too late to make mobile mobile WiMAX a mainstream market.
The key is availability of hand held devices, eReaders and other gadgets. The HTC EVO 4G smart phone (sold by Sprint) uses a lot of power and falls back to 3G in most places as WiMAX coverage is limited. Without a huge market in WiMAX smart phones and other hand held devices, the semiconductor companies can't drive the cost down- the volume just isn't there without hand helds. Intel's concept of a WiMAX MID (a gadget that's somewhere between a smart phone and tablet PC) hasn't happened either- not even for 3G. And no tablet PC/e-Reader we know of supports or plans to support mobile WiMAX.
So we think that eventually, Sprint will have to shift to LTE, because that's where the mobile broadband ecosystem is going.
What do readers think? Does WiMAX still have life and if so what are the driving applications?