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....