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Sprint's next leap in wireless: WiMax

Sprint Nextel has given WiMax technology a green light, becoming the first major U.S. carrier to back WiMax for its fourth-generation (4G) wireless data network. Sprint, the third-largest U.S. mobile operator, plans to start rolling out the WiMax network in late 2007 and hopes to reach as many as 100 million people with the service by the end of 2008. Offering downstream speeds of 2Mbps (megabits per second) to 4Mbps, WiMax promises new power for bandwidth-hungry applications like mobile videoconferencing and large enterprise file transfers.

With 4G, enterprises will be able to buy guaranteed throughput from a carrier, something they can’t do with 3G, said Tad Neeley, an analyst at Gemini Partners. For example, if a company paid for 1.5Mbps upstream and downstream, remote employees could count on that speed no matter how busy the network was.

Hardware partners Intel, Motorola and Samsung Electronics will equip notebook PCs and a variety of mobile devices to use Sprint’s 4G network.

The 4G service will complement Sprint Nextel’s 3G EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) services, executives said. The carrier already offers video, music and other multimedia services on 3G, but that technology doesn’t deliver the economics Sprint needs, said Barry West, Sprint’s chief technology officer.

WiMax service prices will meet Sprint’s frequently stated goal of offering 1G byte of data per month for less than US$20: “We are significantly south of that,” West said.

Motorola and Samsung’s position in the device market, along with Intel’s marketing power, will make this a turning point for WiMax, said IDC analyst Shiv Bakhshi. “WiMax was in need of a major player signing on to it,” he said

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