LAS VEGAS--Sprint Nextel will launch its first commercial WiMax service in Baltimore in September, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said Wednesday during a speech at the NxtComm trade show.
Sprint will turn up WiMax service in two other cities, Chicago and Washington, before the end of the year, Hesse added. But he didn't give a specific time frame for these deployments.
The much-anticipated WiMax service has been delayed several times. Initially, the company had said it would launch the service in the first half of the year. More recently, it has been vague about when it would deploy the service. It's been testing the mobile WiMax service with download speeds of between 2 megabits per second and 4 Mbps since the end of last year in Chicago and the Washington-Baltimore area.
The company has faced some delays due to technical issues having to do with backhauling or connecting traffic back to Sprint's core network. But much of the delay seems to be a result of financial and management issues at the company.
In an effort to appease shareholders and refocus the company on its core cell phone business, Sprint announced last month that it would spin off its WiMax assets and team with another service provider, Clearwire, to build a nationwide WiMax network. Clearwire has already been offering a fixed WiMax service in parts of the U.S., and it is currently testing a mobile WiMax service in Portland, Ore.
The new joint venture, called Clearwire, will be majority-owned by Sprint and has taken investment from cable operators Comcast and Time Warner Cable as well as from big tech companies such as Intel and Google.
During his speech, Hesse said that the new Sprint Clearwire venture has at least a two-year advantage over other wireless operators who plan to build 4G wireless networks. And he emphasized that this was a key differentiator given the fact that existing 2G and 3G networks were already running out of capacity for data services.
"As fast as (3G networks) are today, nothing will define wireless broadband like WiMax," he said. "The 4G technology is wireless at rocket speeds. And Sprint could have a two-year head start in providing broadband wirelessly at landline speeds."
He talked about using the new WiMax network to provide Internet connectivity to a slew of consumer electronics devices such as cameras, as well as bringing new services to cars, allowing parents to download videos directly to their cars while traveling so their kids could watch movies in the back seat.
Experts following the WiMax market say it is critical for Sprint to get a commercial WiMax up and running as soon as possible.
"Nothing beats proof of concept," said Paul Kapustka, founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, which has recently published a report on the WiMax market. "It's great to talk about this stuff, but seeing a network in action goes a long way. If Sprint wasn't able to get a commercial deployment out before the end of the year, then there would have been real questions about the viability."
But even if Sprint is able to hit its new September deadline, there are still big questions surrounding WiMax's future. Even with big technology companies such as Intel and Motorola backing the technology, some experts question whether mobile WiMax can be anything other than a niche market. Most of the world's major cell phone companies including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Vodafone, the world's largest cell phone operator, say they will use a competing technology known as Long Term Evolution or LTE to build their 4G wireless networks.