WiMAX's future still rests heavily in Sprint's hands

Has the WiMAX ecosystem really progressed to a point where the fate of the technology is no longer heavily influenced by Sprint? During the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Barry West, president of Sprint's Xohm Business Unit, declared that the WiMAX ecosystem has moved beyond Xohm. Of course, he has a reason for saying so. Namely, there is much uncertainty surrounding the business as new CEO Dan Hesse takes the helm and Sprint is embroiled in its budget process.

Sprint was exactly what WiMAX needed back when the operator decided to use the technology in mid-2006. It has single-handedly directed how the standard would be implemented, helped push technical readiness and brought device makers under its wing. But is it done wielding its heavy influence on the ecosystem? For sure, several operators around the world are poised to turn trial networks into commercial ones. Governments are ramping up spectrum auctions, and the International Telecommunication Union embraced mobile WiMAX as a 3G standard.

But WiMAX isn't out of the woods. Most of the contracts we've seen to date have nowhere near the scale that Sprint could represent. Mobile WiMAX really needs that one big operator committed to a nationwide rollout so the technology can significantly scale. WiMAX device and chip makers know this, which is why it's important for them to make announcements that revolve around Sprint. To wit: Zyxel, a Sprint designated WiMAX modem manufacturer, and Sequans announced their collaboration to make a device that will debut on Sprint's Xohm network. Last month, Beceem announced it had validated initial interoperability of most of key features for Xohm's 2008 launch. And WiMAX proponents had to be breathing a sigh of relief when Sprint revealed its launch partners this week. (See below)

Whether real or perceived, the future of WiMAX still rests heavily in Sprint's hands. Yes, WiMAX can survive without Sprint but at a far different level.--Lynnette