Sprint Backs WiMAX, But Admits LTE Will Be Bigger


The boss of US mobile operator Sprint has backed the reasons for investing in WiMAX, but admitted that LTE will likely become the bigger 4G standard

One of the largest commercial backers of WiMAX in the United States has backed its decision to invest in WiMAX technology, but has recognised that its rival, LTE, would likely be the bigger 4G standard.

Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse suggested during a talk at the CTIA Wireless conference that his company’s decision to invest in WiMAX for its 4G technology, as opposed to LTE, was out of a need to quickly create a footprint in the US-based 4G market. However, Hesse also said WiMAX would “likely” be dwarfed as a 4G standard by LTE.

WiMAX was a tried, true, tested 4G technology,” Hesse told the audience assembled in a hangar-like space for the conference’s 24 March keynote addresses. “LTE will most likely be the larger of the two 4G standards, but for us, we couldn’t wait. Because of our spectrum position, we have the option to add other technologies later, but this allows us to get into this technology quickly.”

Hesse added: “Time to market was very important. That is our competitive position.”

HTC Evo 4G Phone
HTC Evo 4G Phone

Sprint 4G capability is currently available in 27 markets, and the company plans to expand it to Houston, Boston, Washington, New York and San Francisco by the end of 2010. Despite a $1 billion (£699 million) investment in Clearwire’s WiMax 4G technology, however, Sprint also faces considerable financial and customer-related pressures. In the fourth quarter of 2009, the carrier reported losses of $980 million (£656 million) and about 148,000 subscribers, better than the 545,000 who left the network during the third quarter but nonetheless a sign of a worrying trend.

Unveils 4G Smartphone

Hesse introduced a 4G-capable smartphone, the HTC Evo 4G, during a high-profile press conference 23 March. The device runs on the Google Android 2.1 operating system and is capable of displaying high-definition video and other multimedia on its 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen; it also incorporates two cameras, an 8-megapixel module with auto-focus and an HD-capable camcorder, and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel lens.

HTC, Google and Sprint have apparently been working since May 2008 to deliver what HTC CEO Peter Chou described as “the world’s first fully integrated 4G consumer handset.”

Like other devices making their debut at CTIA, such as the Samsung Galaxy S, the HTC Evo 4G places heavy emphasis on social networking, with a number of applications designed to aggregate content from popular sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The HTC Evo 4G could “give Sprint an edge in attracting and retaining high-value smartphone customers, although every operator is targeting that segment, including AT&T with the iPhone,” Mike Roberts, an analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, wrote in a 24 March research note. “Sprint is still losing postpaid subscribers at twice the rate of Verizon and AT&T, and devices like the HTC Evo 4G will be key to retaining and attracting customers.”

However, Roberts added, the eventual success or failure of the HTC Evo 4G will depend on more than just its hardware capabilities or the speed of its network: “Sprint’s new 4G Mobile WiMax device will only really come into its own when it has a variety of applications that take advantage of the faster speeds of 4G, and that will take time.”

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