One big motivation behind the Sprint-Nextel merger was the huge amount of 2.5 GHz spectrum the combined company would own. Before the merger, both companies had been testing various wireless broadband technologies from multiple vendors with the intention of building a fourth-generation network in the spectrum, and despite an investment in IPWireless and comments about other technologies, the WSJ is reporting that later today, Sprint will announce it's chosen to use WiMAX for the network. This would be a huge boost for the technology, which thus far has been long on hype but short on large-scale rollouts. It would also be a big win for Intel, which has pumped a lot of money into WiMAX, with the hope of creating a market its chips can dominate. One strong contender for the new Sprint network was Flash-OFDM technology from Flarion, which was then bought by Qualcomm. But it's widely believed that Qualcomm' control of the technology worked against it, as part of the growing backlash against Qualcomm's IP licensing practices. Choosing WiMAX may not get operators like Sprint totally out of the woods, though, as Qualcomm has acted like it has IP that's relevant to WiMAX. Also keep in mind that this new WiMAX network would be in addition to Sprint's existing CDMA mobile network, which it continues to upgrade. One significant challenge for the company will be convincing consumers and investors of the value of this new network, and that it's not redundant. Update: Sprint has confirmed that it's going with mobile WiMAX, and plans to launch the network by the end of 2007, with significant coverage by 2008. It's announced an alliance with Intel, Samsung and Motorola, and is promising initial downlink speeds of between 2 to 4 Mbps. Sprint execs also briefly ran through their reasons for not selecting the other technologies they evaluated: Qualcomm/Flarion's Flash-OFDM wasn't conducive to their spectrum, while IPWireless' technology couldn't provide a suitable ecosystem, and 3G LTE and HSxPA technologies couldn't be brought to market quickly enough. Sprint's decision should give mobile WiMAX significant momentum and influence other carriers' views of the technology. One final point: interesting timing on the announcement, with Sprint throwing down a gauntlet of sorts the day before the big AWS spectrum auction starts.
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