Ultimately, Sprint Nextel wasn’t able to generate an ecosystem for its WiMAX network.

The thing about Clearwire and Xohm’s (pronounced “zoam”) WiMAX network wasn’t that it was a terrible technology. Its performance was lauded—but the hype factor was over the top for an ecosystem that never transpired.

Sprint announced that it was branding its WiMAX service Xohm in 2007. The Xohm WiMAX network would be open access, meaning that all WiMAX-certified devices would be able to operate on the network. WiMAX was based on the 802.16e standard that was strongly backed by Intel. Greenfield operator Clearwire based its entire network on WiMAX. (Xohm was combined with Clearwire in the fall of 2008.)

Barry West, chief technology officer and president of Xohm for Sprint Nextel at the time, had high expectations. When asked at a 2007 conference about Google, he replied that going forward, there would be at least two 800-pound gorillas, "and one of them is going to be Xohm.”

He wasn’t the only one. While Sprint Nextel and Clearwire were tightly entwined, with Sprint Nextel being Clearwire's largest single shareholder, Clearwire also had backers in Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Intel and even Google.

But even those collective market forces were not enough. WiMAX was up against technologies like HSDPA/HSPA/LTE and EV-DO Rev. B, which had the benefit of an existing base of mobile users on related technologies and broad network coverage. Industry analyst Keith Mallinson opined (PDF) in 2007 that WiMAX’s key challenge was in establishing high-volume demand for equipment and services.

Granted, WiMAX was in the market years before LTE, and Sprint said the network would reach 140 million POPs by 2010; in fact, it reached 117 million by the end of 2010 and topped out at 135 million.

Ultimately, Sprint Nextel wasn’t able to generate an ecosystem for its WiMAX network. In 2013, Sprint Nextel completed acquiring the remaining shares it didn't already own of Clearwire, becoming sole owner. A day later, Sprint Nextel and SoftBank announced the completion of their merger. And then Sprint shut down its WiMAX network in 2016.


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