Non-subsidized WiMAX devices are reality

As my colleague Dan O'Shea at FierceTelecom pointed out after attending WiMAX World last week, Sprint CTO Barry West has turned into quite a celebrity in the WiMAX industry. As the technology's chief evangelizer, West has been spending the last year or so heralding a new business model, one that focuses on non-subsidized devices and no contracts.

I have been skeptical about whether Sprint could really do away with subsidies at first. But Sprint has taken unprecedented steps for an operator to exert control over the WiMAX ecosystem. It appears those efforts are paying off as announcements last week from Nokia about WiMAX-enabled Internet tablets and from Motorola regarding its plans for new PC cards, USB devices and handsets seem to confirm the fact that indeed, we won't see any subsidized WiMAX devices--at least from Sprint.

"We're encouraging our device partners to come into the market under their own brands," West said. He indicated customers will be able to buy devices at major retail outlets that can be activated and programmed with services without Sprint's help before they make their first run on the WiMAX network.

Still, with all of the heavy lifting Sprint is doing to push the WiMAX ecosystem along, it will be left with less control than it historically has ever had on the marketing side since devices are a major part of purchasing decisions for customers. I suspect Sprint will be holding the hands of its device partners for some time.-Lynnette