It may all be slipping away from Sprint after all. At CTIA Wireless 2008 in Las Vegas, the company said the transition of its Xohm WiMax service from the current soft launch in Baltimore, Washington, DC and Chicago to full rollout, which was expected this month, is on hold.
Electronista says the delay is not due to technology, while Ars Technica says it is due to a lack of backhaul capacity. Sources say the launch now is expected during the summer.
Of course, the first truism of technical rollouts is that they won't happen on time. (The second is that they will be over budget.) WiMax could still work out for Sprint. The company still could sign the reported deal with cable operators. CEO Dan Hesse was said to have been pushing to have the deal in place by the show. The fact that it didn't happen doesn't mean that it won't. It either makes sense for the parties involved or it doesn't, and a few days either way shouldn't make a difference. It is fair to point out, however, that Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Dan Moffett was quoted in The Washington Post sounding as if he doesn't expect the deal to get done.
Regardless of the fate of Xohm, there is no doubt that a 4G wireless standard will emerge. It's equally certain that it will be IP-based and use orthogonal frequency division modulation (OFDM). Those are both attributes of WiMax and Long Term Evolution (LTE), the approach that is getting a lot of good publicity -- and signing a number of deals -- these days. Earlier this week, I posted a blog that suggested that the two standards may eventually coalesce. A few more disappointments, however, and the playing field may tilt more fully toward LTE and its vendors.
But WiMax and Sprint are not synonymous. There are WiMax deals getting announced, albeit much lower-profile deals. Late last month, for instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had approved a $267 million loan to Denver provider Open Range Communications to offer WiMax to 518 communities in 17 states.
Another little-known company, Craig Wireless, made WiMax news this week by selecting Alcatel-Lucent gear for its WiMax network in Palm Springs, Calif. On the hardware side, the deal includes base stations, wireless access controllers and an operations center. Alcatel-Lucent also is providing design, planning and installation services for the project, which the story says is the first commercial deployment in North America of Alcatel-Lucent WiMax gear.
Also this week, Charles Street Partners, also backed by the USDA's Rural Development arm, said its operating companies will use WiMax gear from Nortel to serve customers in rural areas of Georgia and Florida. The operating companies are Bay Broadband and Transcend Broadband.
The bottom line here is that WiMax and Sprint WiMax are two different things. Clearly, a massive high-profile rollout by the carrier would be big news and a boon to the platform's proponents. But even if it doesn't happen, it doesn't mean WiMax is dead.