Amid all of the chatter about AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE plans, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is taking pains to remind the wireless market that, via its relationship with mobile WiMAX provider Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), it has been running a 4G network for nearly two years.
The new push comes as Clearwire finalizes WiMAX market launches in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. Sprint is the majority owner of Clearwire, which plans to launch 80 WiMAX markets covering 120 million POPs by the end of the year; Sprint resells Clearwire's service under its "Sprint 4G" brand.
Matt Carter, Sprint's president of 4G, contended that even with the impending LTE launches by Verizon and MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS), Sprint has a leg up. For one, he told Forbes, Sprint has gained knowledge from rolling out a 4G network (even if Clearwire is actually building it), including how to deal with bugs. Additionally, he said, Sprint has been making inroads with enterprise and government customers--something Verizon has been playing up as it prepares to launch LTE in 25-30 commercial markets in the fourth quarter, covering 100 million POPs. Verizon has promised real-world speeds of between 5 and 12 Mbps.
Carter said Sprint will continue to market its 4G offering as "different, better and special," and noted that Sprint doesn't cap users' data. Clearwire says its mobile WiMAX network delivers speeds of 3-6 Mbps, and Clearwire has said its mobile WiMAX subscribers churn through around 7 GB of data per month on average. Carter said Sprint does not plan to drop its $10 surcharge on customers who buy its 3G/4G phones--the HTC Evo and Samsung Epic--even if they do not live in WiMAX markets.
LTE proponents--especially Verizon--contend that LTE's global support and reach means that Sprint's time-to-market advantages will rapidly fade. Sprint is is evaluating final bids from six vendors on a massive network modernization project that could eventually include a switch to LTE. For now, though, Sprint is backing WiMAX to the hilt. However, Clearwire has said it will begin testing LTE throughout the fall and into the early part of next year in Phoenix.
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