Sprint launches third WiMAX smartphone, the HTC Evo Shift 4G

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) unveiled its third and much-rumored WiMAX smartphone, the HTC Evo Shift 4G, an action that highlights Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) mobile network just ahead of expected LTE smartphone announcements from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ)--including one from HTC.

htc evo shift sprint 4g wimaxLike its predecessor, the Evo, the HTC Evo Shift boasts a boatload of high-end specifications. The device runs version 2.2. of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, has a 3.6-inch screen, slide-out Qwerty keyboard, 5-megapixel camera with 720 HD video recording, WiFi and the ability to share a WiMAX connection with up to eight WiFi-enabled devices. Like Sprint's other 3G/4G phones, customers must pay an additional $10 per month for WiMAX data. The carrier said it will launch the Evo Shift Jan. 9 for $149.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate on a new, two-year contract. 

In addition to the Evo Shift, Sprint also announced a new Novatel MiFi 3G/4G mobile hotspot device, which provides wireless connectivity for up to five WiFi-enabled devices. Sprint will launch the device Feb. 27 for $49.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate activation on a new two-year service agreement.

The announcements, days before the official start of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, appear to  be an attempt to counter Verizon's LTE device announcements, which are expected to include smartphones from HTC, Motorola (NYSE:MOT) and Samsung. Clearwire's WiMAX network now covers 71 markets and around 120 million POPs; Verizon's LTE network is currently live in 39 markets and covers around 110 million POPs.

Despite the close relationship between Sprint and Clearwire, the two have experienced friction over WiMAX smartphones. According to Clearwire, several hundred thousand Evo and Samsung Epic subscribers currently use their phones outside of Clearwire's coverage area. Clearwire argues that its wholesale agreement with Sprint calls for Sprint to make monthly payments to Clearwire for those devices, despite the fact that the gadgets aren't connecting to Clearwire's WiMAX network. Sprint appears to disagree, and has initiated arbitration with Clearwire to hammer out the details.

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