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Sprint CEO admits WiMAX gamble didn't pay off

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Dan Hesse has admitted that his company's gamble in investing in WiMAX hasn't paid off in providing Sprint with a first-mover advantage – even if it has turned out great for customers.

Sprint's CEO was interviewed by Walt Mossberg at the All Things Digital conference in San Francisco, as reported by PC World, and admitted that WiMAX technology failed to provide the 4G lead it was supposed to. He did argue, however, that the failure was down to Verizon's unexpectedly fast response in deploying LTE, to the good of consumers looking for faster wireless.

Sprint's Xohm network, which later got thrown into the Clearwire mix, had to use WiMAX, because the approved telecommunications standard – LTE – wasn't finished in time. Even when LTE was ready, it relied on separate frequencies for transmitting and receiving (Frequency Division Duplex) – and only very recently managed to do both over one band (Time Division Duplex) as WiMAX always has.

That should have given WiMAX networks a good couple of years' advantage in getting to market, which is what Sprint was betting on, but things are never quite that simple. Intel backed WiMAX very heavily, but Nokia Siemens and the rest of the mobile infrastructure suppliers have greater patent holdings in LTE, and (by happy coincidence) that's the technology the big mobe network operators around the world backed.

Without network operator backing, confidence in WiMAX fell, and in Europe various legal shenanigans delayed the release of radio spectrum that WiMAX operators might have wanted, at least until the LTE TDD standard was finalised – again denying WiMAX the economy of scale it needed.

These days it is recognised that LTE will triumph, with WiMAX headed for point-to-point connections and fixed wireless. Even Sprint has been working out how to migrate to LTE, ideally in the same spectrum – though in his interview Dan Hesse also refers to cheaper wireless being dependent on what Walt Mossberg called "taking away the spectrum that the elderly use to watch their TV"...

Clearwire might have been the first 4G network in America, but to get there it was forced to adopt a dead-end technology, and is still suffering for that decision. ®

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