4G czar at Sprint backs WiMax 'singularly'

Carter says Sprint's WiMax smartphones are 'true contenders' to the iPhone

Don't ask Matt Carter, president of 4G at Sprint Nextel, about LTE, a competing wireless technology. He wants to focus on Sprint's use of WiMax for 4G wireless networks.

"Our position is that we are singularly focused around WiMax and there's no waivering on that view from us," Carter said Wednesday in an interview with Computerworld.

"Does the amount of wireless spectrum [Sprint has available] give us the opportunity in some time to to convert to LTE or run LTE alongside WiMax? Yes. We built the 4G network in a manner to give us that flexibility," Carter said. "But we don't want to confuse the market and our ecosystem of suppliers and customers. We are deploying WiMax."

Sprint, with 48 million wireless customers on its various networks, has more than 1 million customers using 4G with WiMax, connecting over various devices including USB WiMax modems for laptops, WiMax-equipped laptops and even the new HTC Evo 4G smartphone , Carter said.

Sprint's WiMax is deployed over its partner Clearwire's WiMax infrastructure in 48 U.S. cities. Carter demonstrated use of the soon-to-ship Samsung Epic smartphone over WiMax in downtown Boston, where WiMax service will be officially turned on in coming weeks. Sprint said WiMax has the capability to reach 55 million people in those 48 cities, and should reach 120 million people by year's end.

LTE, for Long Term Evolution, is an emerging high-speed wireless technology that is supported by Verizon Wireless and AT&T for its next-generation 4G networks. LTE has technical similarities to WiMax and is expected to be far more widely deployed by carriers worldwide than WiMax, which will make its biggest appearance in developing countries.

Despite what Carter said about Sprint's strong support for WiMax, there are signs that Sprint will eventually support LTE, at least in tandem with WiMax. For one (insignificant as it may be), even Carter's title is not "president of WiMax," but rather "president of 4G."

More importantly, Sprint's WiMax infrastructure supplier Clearwire is about to conduct trials of LTE technology in Phoenix starting this fall, using spectrum that Clearwire already controls. Sprint is the majority shareholder of Clearwire, and is joined in ownership by some cable operators and others.

Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow has said that LTE over Clearwire could offer speeds between 20 Mbit/sec. and 70 Mbit/sec., compared with 5 Mbit/sec. to 12 Mbit/sec. from other LTE operators. The difference is because Clearwire has so much radio spectrum to use.

Rather than focus on the LTE possibility at Clearwire, Carter said WiMax has given Sprint a first-to-market advantage with 4G, including the first 4G smartphones . He said various critics of Sprint, including some noted analysts, were wrong to criticize Sprint for launching 4G with WiMax.

"If we had listened to the critics, we'd be where Verizon is [with no 4G service so far]," Carter said. "WiMax gave us the chance to be out there and build a value proposition."

After Sprint announced on July 28 its first overall net subscriber growth in three years, Gartner Inc. analyst Phillip Redman said Sprint isn't out of the hole in attracting more subscribers and improving revenues. At the time, Redman said Sprint "has a long way to go, especially with the Clearwire WiMax gamble," adding that WiMax is "too expensive" of a technology for Sprint.

But Carter said it is full speed ahead with WiMax, with the Samsung Epic about to be announced. Before the end of the year, Sprint's focus will be on building out the WiMax network, he said, signaling that other WiMax device announcements would come later on.

One direction that seems clear is that Sprint's WiMax service for smartphones won't just be for post-pay customers, who sign two-year agreements for service and are billed monthly after accumulating data and voice minutes. Carter was the head of Boost Mobile, a pre-pay phone subsidiary of Sprint, for two years before moving to his current role in January.

"There's clearly a possibility that we could make this WiMax available for pre-pay as well, and we're looking to extend our leadership in pre-pay. So there's no reason to believe WiMax will only be post-pay," Carter said.

Carter also contended that the HTC Evo 4G and the coming Samsung Epic smartphones on WiMax are "true contenders" to Apple 's iPhone . "We can seize customers from the iPhone customer base because the iPhone user is on an inferior network [at AT&T]. iPhone users have found they can't use it as much as they want because of the challenges AT&T has."

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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