Sprint To Detail 4G Strategy: WiMAX?

Sprint plans to announce the details of its much-anticipated 4G network in a conference later today, and the company has been trialling various technologies including WiMAX, Qualcomm-backed technologies, and IP Wireless’ technology, among others.

Some are saying that Sprint has chosen WiMAX, partly to avoid the Qualcomm royalty ecosystem, where Qualcomm takes a percentage of every handset sold. We called Sprint and they wouldn’t comment on the technology choice, but we’ll bring you more details later in the day.

If it’s true, that’s another public strike against Qualcomm’s high fees, which seem to be riling carriers in developing markets. Though, Qualcomm also has a good business with Sprint for its CDMA network, and Sprint is even upgrading its high speed EVDO service earlier than expected by the end of this year. It’s not too big a suprise that Sprint would not want to keep shelling out money to the same company if there are other comparable technologies available.

If Sprint has chosen WiMAX it would be a major win for Intel and the like that have been trying to push the technology by massive investment. If a company like Nortel could manage to win the contract it would do wonders for its attempts at a turn around.

Sprint has been mulling over its technology choice for awhile. Last January Sprint’s COO Len Lauer made a speech at CTIA laying out Sprint’s plans for its 4G network, which will run over 2.5 GHz spectrum that the company owns. At that time Lauer said the company will use its partnership with cable for exclusive media content, and will transition its media and mobile TV services to the new network when the 3G network gets too crowded. He said the network could launch as soon as 2008 and the entertainment services might be sold for a monthly charge of between $20 and $40 a month.

In an interview later that day he told me the 4G network would likely cost upwards of $800 million to build — the fee that Qualcomm has said it is spending on its MediaFLO network in the U.S. With Sprint reporting pretty tepid earnings last week, does the company really need to be spending that much on an experimental technology that has yet to prove itself in the market?

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