Sprint likely to re-introduce unlimited WiMAX for tablets, USB modems next year

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) intends to maintain its mobile broadband plan pricing that does not include unlimited access to Clearwire's (NASDAQ:CLWR) mobile WiMAX network despite a new agreement that will give Sprint unlimited access to the WiMAX network in 2012 and 2013.

"We have no changes to announce to our 4G pricing plans at this time," Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat told FierceWireless.

Under Sprint's existing agreement with Clearwire, Sprint pays Clearwire based on its customers' WiMAX data usage. However, under the terms of a new series of deals Sprint and Clearwire announced Thursday, Sprint will pay Clearwire a flat fee of $926 million for unlimited WiMAX retail services during 2012 and 2013, subject to certain conditions. The agreements also establish long-term usage-based pricing for WiMAX services in 2014 and beyond, and Sprint will have access to Clearwire's WiMAX network through at least 2015.

In November, Sprint replaced its unlimited pricing plans for mobile broadband products with usage-based pricing--likely an attempt by Sprint to reduce its WiMAX usage payments to Clearwire. Sprint's tiered plans apply to tablets, dedicated mobile hotspots, USB modems, netbooks and notebooks:

  • $50 per month for 6 GB of combined EV-DO and mobile WiMAX data.
  • $80 per month for 12 GB of combined EV-DO and mobile WiMAX.

Sprint also launched a 3 GB/$35 per month plan for tablets and mobile hotspots and a 1 GB/$20 per month plan for tablets. Previously, Sprint had offered unlimited WiMAX data for all of its devices--smartphones and mobile broadband devices--and capped EV-DO data usage at 5 GB. Sprint still offers unlimited EV-DO and WiMAX data for its smartphones.

Despite Sprint's insistence that no changes are imminent, Sprint could revert back to offering unlimited WiMAX data for all of its devices at some point next year. "They'll probably switch on that," BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk told FierceWireless. "The whole reason for that pricing change was the cost they were incurring on the usage. It would make no sense whatsoever for Sprint to not offer unlimited 4G on all of their devices. There is no incremental cost for them to do that."

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