Sprint's Move Away from WiMax: Never Mind

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Sprint Nextel certainly isn't acting like a company that is backing away from WiMax.


At the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, the company made several announcements related to its nascent Xohm service, which already is being used by employees in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago. Sprint said SwapDrive will run its consumer portal, eTelecare Global Solutions will provide voice and online customer care services, McAfee will head security and Soho Square will be the advertising agency for the launch.


Four equipment vendors will work with Sprint: OQO will embed WiMax in an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC), Zyxel and Sequans will collaborate on voice and data modems and ASUSTek will release WiMax-embedded devices that will work on the network.


As this Washington Post story points out, the departure of Gary Foresee and the decision to not go forward with an agreement to create a nationwide WiMax network with Clearwire led to speculation -- and some assumptions -- that the company was backing away from WiMax.


The story describes a presentation at CES apparently designed to put the speculation to rest. Executives laid out the reasons the company still thinks WiMax is a good bet and why it is moving forward aggressively. In short, the reasons that it still is excited about WiMax:

  • A strong move will give it first-to-market advantages.
  • To move to higher frequencies, Sprint would have to update its Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology. However, the company says the Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) approach used by WiMax is less complex than the newer version of CMDA.
  • The ability to offer services of any length (by the day, week, year, etc.) to anyone with the proper gear is far more flexible than the current cellular scenario in which service providers subsidize a small number of devices in exchange for long-term agreements and the opportunity to sell other products and services to subscribers.
The relevance of the last point, however, is somewhat blunted by Verizon Wireless' move away from the traditional approach in reaction to rules promulgated by the FCC for the 700 MHz auction later this month. In any case, the important point is that Nextel, after either real or media-imagined second thoughts about WiMax, seems to be back in the believer column.


Sprint, of course, is not the only company betting big on WiMax. This Reuters story, posted at Baseline, reports on a trial in Sderot, Israel, being launched by Intel, Alvarion and 012 Smile.Communications. In the commentary, the story says that high-end notebooks will embed WiMax this year and that WiMax cards will be available for other devices.


While Sprint gets most of the WiMax attention, it is likely that the most important single player in the segment is Intel. In a bit of good news for proponents, the microprocessor giant said this week that it may make it an option for ultra-mobile devices outfitted with the Menlow platform. The company, according to PC World, plans to include WiMax in Montevina, the upgrade of Centrino due in the second half of the year.