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Sprint says yes to US-wide WiMAX network

Major victory for Motorola and Samsung

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Comment So there really is going to be an honest to goodness broadband wireless WiMAX network in the US, with tons of spectrum and an national reach, thanks to Sprint’s decision, leaked earlier yesterday that it will use the fledgling technology for an all purpose US wide network costing $4.5bn.

The decision is a body blow to Qualcomm, which has its incumbent Sprint CDMA mobile network revenues to lose, and which was bidding the Flarion Flash OFDM, from the company it acquired last August.

But for Motorola, at risk with something like 18 per cent of its revenues coming from Sprint Nextel’s IDEN mobile network, it is a major victory, landing the biggest network equipment contract for WiMAX that has ever been placed.

Motorola will also be asked to come up with brand new mobile handsets for the WiMAX network, as will Samsung. These are likely to be highly multimedia capable, dual mode, CDMA WiMAX handsets to enable roaming and a gradual transition to WiMAX from the existing Sprint CDMA network.

Intel is also a net beneficiary as it makes many of the chips that will drive the WiMAX base stations and transceiver chips.

Three and a half years ago WiMAX was an idea being kicked around a standards body by small VC start ups when Intel first collided with the concept of radio, hot on the heels of its Centrino success. It said it could make WiMAX a reality, and with this decision Intel has achieved that.

The US already is over a year into the build out of one WiMAX network through Craig McCaw’s Clearwire, but that is built around patches of spectrum acquired quietly in the build up to the launch of Clearwire and bartered since. It has nothing like the rich vein of spectrum that Sprint Nextel owns, with around 100 MHz of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz range, ideal both for WiMAX and for the transmission of video and multimedia signals.

Sprint will spend $4.5bn building out its network, which will take a couple of years at least, say the leaked sources, but this should all be announced in the next day or so, so more detail may emerge.

The video services will be offered in conjunction with the top five US cable TV operators, and it looks pretty much like mobile TV in the US will be exactly the same as cable TV.

It is difficult to say just what this WiMAX network will look like, because there are so many combinations of base station density and configuration possible, but a single large multi-sector base station in a city could reach several miles and have an aggregate data rate of something 300 Mbps.

Depending on how many of these are put in each City, how they are backhauled and what portion of them are made over to video services, the network should be capable of offering broadband access to homes, businesses, portable broadband that will eventually eliminate the need for Wi-Fi, as well as mobile and fixed telephony, once the latest mobile standard for WiMAX finds its way into the equipment design.

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