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NXTcomm08: Sprint to turn up Baltimore WiMAX network in September
By Kevin Fitchard

Jun 18, 2008 1:52 PM

Delayed throughout the year, 4G network nears readiness for launch, CEO says

LAS VEGAS--Sprint will commercially launch its first WiMAX market in September in Baltimore and turn up service in its two other trial markets, Chicago and Washington, D.C., before the end of the year, said Sprint CEO Dan Hesse during his keynote address at NXTcomm08.

The launch is a long time coming as Sprint has pushed back the date throughout the year as it dealt with its troubled finances, operational changes, changes in its executive staff—including Hesse’s replacing former CEO Gary Forsee—and negotiated with fellow WiMAX adopter Clearwire and a myriad of other companies to share the operation and costs of the new network. Sprint first deployed the three networks last year, flipping the switch right before Christmas, but since then Sprint has launched only employee trials. Commercial trials early in the year and a full commercial launch in second quarter failed to materialize. But all of the pieces now appear to be in place to take the wraps off the first market by fall.

Much of Hesse’s speech was devoted to Sprint’s mobile data strategy, particularly its 4G plans. The new CEO said that demands for higher capacity on wireless networks were exceeding the industry’s ability to match it with current 3G technologies. Only 4G, and particularly WiMAX given its several-year time-to-market advantage over competing technology Long Term Evolution, can provide the bandwidth at the low cost necessary to support that demand as well as the new embedded-consumer electronics business models Sprint and Clearwire plan, Hesse said.

“Consumers still can’t seem to get enough data,” Hesse said. “WiMAX can deliver blazing fast speeds to all manner of devices, not just cellphones.” While much of the world is looking at WiMAX as a fixed-wireless broadband access technology, Sprint and its partners have focused on its mobile capabilities, aiming to produce a new type of network that supports more than just traditional handsets and laptop connections. Hesse said outlined plans for linking the WiMAX network not only to digital cameras and music players, but to vehicle navigation consoles and on-board entertainment systems as well as the vast network of sensors and meters maintained by the vertical industries. “The embedded chip model allows us to break free of wireless cellphone group think.”

The former AT&T Wireless CEO also used his podium this morning to take a few swipes at AT&T and the iPhone, saying that the enthusiasm for Apple’s recent launch of the 3G version of the iconic device will be dampened by AT&T’s lack of 3G network penetration. Hesse even had fun with fellow keynoter and arch-competitor Verizon Communications CEO Denny Strigl, who took the podium right before to Hesse to discuss Verizon’s FiOS rollout. Hesse said he was pleased to see Strigl was now focusing his energy on Verizon’s wireline network. “I like Denny, but the less of him I see on the wireless side of the business, the better,” Hesse said.

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