Sprint says yes to US-wide WiMAX network
Major victory for Motorola and Samsung
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.
The service will compete as a full quadruple play, driving US broadband, telephony, data service and both fixed and mobile voice pricing down.
The beauty of WiMAX is that it can be built out as customers emerge that buy into it. For instance, a base station can be installed, and customers can emerge from unexpected locations and still be serviced because the system is a point to multi-point radio service.
If a new cable had to be put into the ground it would be impossible to re-wire all of the US, a wire at a time to create a competitor for the existing RBOCs, but with a broadband radio network, it can be done and Sprint is likely to emerge as the third broadband route in the US (the others being cable modems and ADSL), and the entire operation will provide the rest of the world with an operational example of how a WiMAX network can be used to challenge the status quo in communications.
Motorola has come from a late entry in the WiMAX market to the future global leader in WiMAX equipment with this deal, because it has also bought Nextnet, the equipment arm of Clearwire, and will also be providing the equipment for that network.
The TV services for Sprint Nextel could still be supplied in a number of ways, and IP Wireless TDtv technology could be adapted to work with WiMAX (it uses a segment of mobile spectrum to offer a multicasting network using the same base stations as the core service).
This uses an adaptation of the internet multicasting protocol called IGMP (internet group management protocol) that has been adjusted to work with cellular systems, and is called MBMS. But pure IGMP might also be tried, and Samsung is known to have conducted some trials in this area.
There remains a forlorn hope that DVB-H might be used as a broadcast network alongside the Sprint network, but this looks less and less likely as there is no reason, now that WiMAX has been selected, to build a separate network.
Whatever happens, something like 40 to 50 MHz of spectrum could be made over to video services and that could provide something like 200 mobile TV channels.
However, Sprint is known to be interested in offering full screen TV across the network, to extend the reach of the cable operators, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the network had something like 20 to 30 channels of full screen TV broadcast on it, as well as 50 channels of mobile TV as well, and that should all fit comfortably into the Sprint spectrum and still leave plenty over to offer advanced data services, voice communications and roaming internet access.
Whatever happens, this contract will put WiMAX on the map and secure its future globally, it will drive a stake into the heart of the moribund US telcos and it will catapult Motorola into the top flight of network equipment makers.
Copyright © 2006, Faultline 
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