Within the week, Sprint will turn live its WiMAX networks in Chicago and
BaltimoreWashington, D.C., Sprint officials said today. The soft launch will
extend only to Sprint employees and is intended to prepare the networks for a
broader customer trial in the first quarter.
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Sprint spokesman John Polivka said the soft launches will cover the downtown
cores of Chicago, Baltimore and Washington but will rapidly expand outward,
following existing cellular data traffic patterns throughout their respective
cities. Though Sprint has set no date for the broader customer trials, Polivka
said, Sprint intends to keep the trial short, using it as an opportunity to
optimize the network for a full commercial launch in the second quarter.
A WiMAX launch this week puts Sprint just under deadline for its promised trial
deployment by the end of the year. Sprint has stated it would turn up Chicago
and the Washington metro area this quarter, followed by other markets in early
2007. Motorola is building the Chicago network, while Samsung is handling the
eastern seaboard launches. Sprint’s third equipment vendor, Nokia Siemens
Networks, is expected to bring its first networks live in the first quarter in
metropolitan centers in Texas.
While other smaller and international operators have already launched Mobile
WiMAX networks using precertified IEEE 802.16e equipment, Sprint’s Xohm has
been the launch everyone in the industry has been waiting for due to its scale
and scope. Sprint not only plans to expand the network to 100 million people by
the end of the year, but unlike other operators deploying the technology for
fixed broadband, Sprint plans a fully mobile launch from the getgo, starting
with laptop wireless cards and eventually moving to mobile devices as they
become available. In addition, Sprint is planning to offer the service on an
open basis, allowing any device or service provider to access the network.
The grand scope of its plans may change next year, however, as Sprint has said
it will reexamine its Xohm plans early next year in the wake of financial
difficulties that led to CEO Gary Forsee’s departure. Last month, Sprint and
Clearwire called off plans to combine their networks in a venture that would
have given both companies a much bigger footprint for a much lower cost. Though
Sprint publicly has said it is still committed to seeing WiMAX through, its
capital investment in the new network only totaled $73 million in the third
quarter, a fraction of the $2.5 billion it said it would spend on WiMAX in 2007
Polivka said Sprint is proceeding with its deployment schedule as planned,
however, and will continue to do so unless Sprint management decides to change
up its strategy next quarter. Sprint has 10,000 base station sites readied for
deployment, Polivka said, many of them cell sites for its existing CDMA network.
In addition, Polivka said Sprint has orders in 1750 base stations from its three
vendors as well as 20,000 antennas, which could significantly drive up its WiMAX
spend for the current quarter.