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Sprint says yes to US-wide WiMAX network

Major victory for Motorola and Samsung

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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

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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