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Sprint Evaluating LTE Equipment

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spr_hor_k_rSources in the telecommunications world have been telling me that Sprint (s S) is testing Long Term Evolution, or LTE, equipment, which seems a bit odd given Sprint’s cheerleading for WiMAX and 51 percent stake in Clearwire (s CLWR), which is building out a nationwide WiMAX network. I asked Sprint if it was evaluating LTE equipment, and spokesman John Polivka emailed me the following:

You know of our commitment to WiMAX as our 4G play, the only next gen technology commercially offered. … As a prudent Technology Development organization we are always collecting competitive information about various technologies/equipment to monitor and assess the competitive landscape and any potential impacts to Sprint’s plans.

It’s not a no. However, it’s also not a confession that Sprint plans to dump WiMAX and follow its rival carriers to an LTE network.

That being said, Sprint does face some hard choices about its future without its own 4G network, and it may also be leaving a door open on an LTE future with Clearwire. After Clearwire and Sprint closed their $3.2 billion spectrum deal, Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff made a point of noting that the Clear WiMAX network would use equipment that could be transitioned to an LTE network later on. Given the enthusiasm lately around LTE, both Sprint and Clearwire are likely feeling some heat.

40 Responses to “Sprint Evaluating LTE Equipment”

  1. @4gpro

    It is great that you state the difference between LTE and WiMAX being less than 10%, as they are roughly 90% based on the same technology. But how in heaven’s name can you claim that there is no “much difference”? Is it the small % number? I hope you are aware that the genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is “just” about 2%.

  2. Before IEEE 802.16 developed the OFDM plus MIMO technologies as a major contender called WiMAX, there was no LTE. LTE and WiMAX use 90% the same technologies and are heading toward the same evolutionary path. Descriptions of these as being much different are short-sighted nonsense. The technology is little different and has been growing closer together.. any idiot can already see how far together they have drawn even before any LTE network has gone commercial.

    LTE has taken on the task of transitioning legacy incumbent revenue models. That is not prescribed by the technology any more than absurdly high roaming charges are determined by 3G technology. Both WiMAX and LTE are being developed based on flat IP that merges cleanly with Ethernet networking technologies including emerging smart networks, virtualization and cloud computing developments and converged applications development environments. And both are being made to work with incumbent networks including 2G-3G and PSTN. However, LTE places much more emphasis on being the evolutionary platform even though the shift to OFDMA wireless interface and universal IP is similarly disruptive.

    What’s more, neither LTE or WiMAX are just about mobility or just about wireless: these are transport systems as part of real convergence in ICT. Like it or not, the distinct wireless world is part of a larger set of developments, not the only bastard that rules the land.

  3. Sending confusing signals to the market is nothing new. Sprint and its Nextel teams are famous for trying new technologies and testing platforms to the breaking point. In this case, testing LTE may be the best undertaking considering the competitive situation with Verizon and others. If Sprint is to become an attractive take-over target (loosing 1M subs is not attractive) then their technology choice must be reviewed.

    As for WiMAX being “cheaper” or “Easier” to install and manage (or less expensive for subscribers), that’s hogwash. The worldwide Eco system dictates pricing and Capex expenses. When all is said and done, only Alvarion is making money from FIXED WiMax. Mobile WiMAX has a future in Africa and remote areas where major operators do not (nor will they) want to play.

    New CEO’s task is simply to add back shareholder value. Paint the house, fix the plumbing, redo the kitchen and sell at an attractive price (foe the acquiring company).


  4. Stephen Feger

    This is typical of Sprint. The same thing happened last time.

    Check in the wayback time machine when Sprint was going to upgrade from 1xRTT. Verizon had said they would go with EvDO and what did Sprint say? EvDO? Nah, we’re going straight to EvDV! Yep, they made a big fuss about it too. Until a few months later when all the manufacturers basically let them know that no one was actually planning on making the EvDV carrier equipment because they was not enough interest (ie. Verizon wasn’t going in that direction). So quietly Sprint went and announced that they would go the route of EvDO as well.

    I like Sprint, I really do. Their data network is pretty good. They just have the less desireable of the two available frequencies in the CDMA spectrum. Verizon has most of the good stuff. Poor guys….

    Oh well. History repeats itself.

  5. I’m confused as to why WiMax and LTE are mutually exclusive. Strategically they are highly complementary and it makes a lot of sense for Sprint to push WiMax through Clearwire and launch a LTE network.

    WiMax = lower fee, no contract, multiple device + ad hoc pay per day fees. It’ll be best for laptops / Mobile Internet Devices and things like Camcorders / Digital Camera; i.e. things that do not need to be always on but can benefit from high bandwidth.

    LTE = always on devices like Cellphones and Smartphones with higher monthly fees, and individual data contracts per device.

    In theory these two categories should be converging but they won’t be that close by the time LTE and WiMax are legit market offerings – late 2010 / early 2011. It is also unlikely that LTE will offer the bandwidth WiMax will in practice (see iPhone 3G for differences between theoretical 3G speeds and practical speeds with high volume usage).

    Strategically it makes sense for these to be two separate investments. Financially, it may not be viable for Sprint.

    • Well said! What do you think of a VoIP handset using Wimax?
      Not a bad idea considering Atlanta, Portland, Las Vegas, New York soon and many more to come.. If this was available in Grants Pass, Oregon, I’ll be getting one!

      Oh I forgot ClearWire is available in Grants Pass.
      Just waiting for the VoIP hand set so…