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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sprint, WiMAX and the fallout... and device thoughts

Hmm. I wonder how long before someone acquires IPWireless, now that it's big chance has evaporated, with Sprint's decision to go with mobile WiMAX rather than UMTS-TDD or Qualcomm/Flarion's technology.

This line in the press release is interesting: "...will provide voice service using the core 3G network. The 4G broadband network will offer a complementary, high-bandwidth service driven by data centric devices" as what it seems to suggest is that Sprint is deciding to focus its new EV-DO RevA network (due to be deployed from end-2006) for voice - maybe cellular VoIP. Reading between the lines, this seems to suggest that a broader move is occuring, polarising networks to device categories:

- 3.5G networks = predominantly cellphones, with a smattering of data cards, moving to VoIPo3G over time, and also supporting handset-centric applications like downloads, messaging etc. That is, mostly things that work with the operator's own services most of the time (ie on-net, either for voice or content/app portal, or, presumably IMS type stuff)

- 4G = predominantly data devices (in Sprint's words "computing, portable multimedia, interactive and other consumer electronic devices") - probably with a mix of "high speed pipes" (about time we had mobile VPNs, methinks) and in-house/partnered services, but generally more IT/Internet centric philosophy. I suspect it will be relatively independent of IMS's interference, and certainly not too walled-garden centric. This also confirms my view that WiMAX phone form-factor devices are unlikely to appear until 2010 in any meaningful numbers, if at all. Oh, and I'm willing to take a bet that the early Sprint WiMAX devices won't be SIM-based for authentication.

One interesting question is where this leaves smartphones in the future. Are the going to be confined to the "voice+a few other bits" category of 3.5G? Or will they evolve more into the higher-end device segment? I think that if this type of network divergence is replicated elsewhere, they start to look uncomfortably positioned on the fence.

Another interesting element is Samsung's involvement. Clearly, the Korean telecom establishment's decision to steamroller through the commercial deployment of WiBro is going to yield huge dividends for network infrastructure exports (and possibly IPR), just as its handset business looks on shaky ground.

More thoughts on all this in due course....


Daniel Taylor said...


You've hit on the one statement in the release that jumped out at me. I don't know if Sprint meant to say that they intend to move mobile telephony onto the 3G network as VoIP...or if a PR person just assumed that cellular runs on the "core 3G network."

But if it did, it wouldn't necessarily mean a shift in the service interface. So we could use our existing 2G phones, and Sprint could route the calls at VoIP over 3G, and we'd never know the difference. After all, CDMA is already a form of packet telephony, just not IP.

But Sprint pretty much puts speculation to sleep in talking about mobile data as the key driver. Absent is the mention of "special access services" like T-1 that are the bread-and-butter of the incumbent U.S. fixed-line operators. WiMAX could readily fit such an application.

I'm just happy to see that the network will be mobile from the beginning. Having mobile WiMAX as a complementary service to 3G will definitely improve the service alternatives in the smaller cities in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Let's remember what 'mobile' WiMAx is - an access technology. An air interface.

What it is not, is an end-to-end, QoS-controlled, carrier-grade system covering pretty much all layers of the ISO hierarchy (IMHO, it only covers the first 2 - happy to be corrected here).

Look how long it took to develop the GSM/CDMA systems to plain old work and interoperate as well as they do now. 'Mobile' WiMAX won't deliver anything more than what you can get now in terms of speed - reality, 1-2MBps loaded - but with all the flakiness of WiFi. And it's at 2.5GHz. Sucky for urban/rural coverage.

Within a year you will have HSDPA speeds over cells potentially hundreds of km wide - Telstra's Ericsson UMTS850 rollout. 3G in the outback (videocall that dingo).
UMTS900 is around the corner too, once the EC govts work out the licence refund issues with 3G refarming from 2.1 to 900.

And Sprint have the cheek to call it 4G! last time I looked, 4G meant speeds circa 100MBps in both directions.

The WiMAX emperor still has no clothes on, as far as I can see. 7.2 million forecast users by 2010? Give me a break. Add up how much cash will have been thrown into marketing, development, infrstructure build and CAC, and each WiMAX sub should be paying around $250 a month to cover costs (disclaimer: wild stab at a suitably stupid large figure ;-)

By 2010 what will UMTS networks look like? you can bet they will be a lot faster than 1-2MBps. Maybe 10. With nationwide/global coverage, roaming, security etc etc.