Sprint to use WiMax for 4G wireless network

Sprint Nextel says the high-speed wireless data network will be faster and more cost-effective. Photos: Sprint CEO bets big on WiMax

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
NEW YORK--Sprint Nextel plans to spend $3 billion over the next two years to build a fourth-generation wireless network using WiMax technology.

The wireless operator said Tuesday that it is partnering with Intel, Motorola and Samsung Electronics to build the network and develop devices that will access the network.

Sprint executives said during a press briefing here that the company plans to spend about $1 billion on the network in 2007. It will spend another $1.5 billion to $2 billion in 2008. The new fourth-generation, or 4G, network is expected to go live in the fourth quarter of 2007. About 100 million people will have access to the network by the end of 2008, the company said.


Sprint's announcement of the 4G network comes about a year after it started offering service over its third-generation (3G) network based on a technology called Evolution-Data Optimized, or EV-DO. Sprint announced last week that it plans to expand and upgrade its existing EV-DO network to a faster version of the technology called EV-DO Revision A. The company plans to have EV-DO Revision A available to 40 million consumers by the end of this year.

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Gary Forsee, Sprint's chief executive officer, said that the jump to 4G is not a replacement for Sprint's 3G network, but will help the company develop a new market for advanced wireless services. Forsee said that Sprint envisions a future when a whole slew of new devices, like music players, video recorders and portable, low-cost PCs, will attach to the wireless network to allow consumers and business users to access content instantaneously over the mobile Internet.

"The 4G network will be four times faster than today's EV-DO network," he said during the press conference. "And at these speeds, it's all about lighting up new devices. Imagine accessing YouTube.com and MySpace.com literally on the fly."

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Sprint's 4G network will support average download speeds of between 2Mbps (megabits per second) and 4Mbps, Forsee said. And because it can transmit over greater distances and in a wider spectrum band, the company expects the cost of the network to be much less than its current cellular technology.

In fact, Forsee said that the chipsets used in the WiMax network are one-tenth the cost of chips used to build its 3G network. The fact that Sprint already owns a large portion of the 2.5GHz spectrum in the United States that is used to deliver WiMax also helps the economics, he added.

"The cost performance on the 4G business model and the throughput gains, plus the cost of putting these chips into cameras, gaming devices and other consumer electronics, is what makes it different from EV-DO Rev. A," he said.

Samsung and Motorola will supply infrastructure to build the network. They'll also develop devices, including cell phones and consumer electronics products such as video or music players, that will be used to access the network. Intel will provide technology for laptops and other computing devices.

Motorola and Intel have long supported WiMax technology. Last year, the companies announced a special agreement to work closely together to develop new products and promote the technology worldwide. The companies also were very involved in developing mobile WiMax standard 802.11e, which was finalized last year.

Sprint's decision to go with WiMax could be a blow to Qualcomm, which has been pushing a technology it acquired last year from Flarion that competes with WiMax. Sprint also tested Flarion's technology along with technology from a company called IPWireless.