Why Sprint’s Commitment to 4G WiMax Worries Me

On its own, I commend Sprint for being the first 4G network in the U.S. by debuting its WiMax network and its EVO 4G smartphone long before rival Verizon Wireless had even unveiled its own 4G network based on the competing LTE network. However, when the carrier says that it’s committed to WiMax despite looking at potentially even adopting LTE, that really worries me as Sprint’s network could be the most nightmarishly fragmented system. Whereas the rumor before was that Sprint may try to supplant its 4G WiMax network with the 4G LTE protocol, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse says that “every option” for the carrier is centered around WiMax. Now, it seems that LTE may supplement WiMax, rather than replace it.

In fact, most recently, the company had talked about its Network Vision strategy and is seriously considering adoption of LTE–in addition to WiMax–moving forward for 4G. The decision of that debate won’t happen until later this year and is dependent upon a number of factors, but Sprint isn’t shy to say that it is looking at alternatives to WiMax, which it is delivering to customers via a partnership with Clearwire.

The carrier is also, according to recent speculations, looking at acquiring its next largest rival, T-Mobile USA, which operates a 3G GSM network. T-Mobile as a GSM provider is operating a 3G network based on HSPA technology. It also uses a faster evolution of HSPA, called HSPA+, which it is marketing as 4G in the States due to the protocol’s fast speeds that rival LTE and WiMax speeds.

Currently, Sprint’s Now Network already encompasses a number of different network protocols. It had inherited the iDEN network through its Nextel acquisition–Sprint is winding down the iDEN network soon. For 2G speeds, the carrier is operating a 1X network and it is using CDMA/EV-DO for 3G speeds. 4G is delivered on Sprint’s network via WiMax. If the rumored T-Mobile acquisition is true, Sprint will add GSM, EDGE, HSPA/HSPA+ technologies to its network. Also, if the LTE adoption really does happen, Sprint will also adopt LTE technology.

For geeks navigating through the various cellular and mobile broadband technology is difficult enough, but consumers who need to figure out what smartphone to get in the future may be confused by all these rival and competing technologies all found on the Now Network. Sprint will have to explain why its GSM/HSPA+ smartphone–acquired through a T-Mobile acquisition when and if that happens–would be capable of world roaming while its CDMA phones wouldn’t. It will have to explain why, perhaps, LTE smartphones are faster than WiMax and why it has competing 4G phones. Perhaps, it may also have to explain why its T-Mobile phones won’t be able to roam on AT&T’s network because T-Mobile already has a somewhat odd network configuration where upstream and downstream data are already handled on two separate frequencies, unlike AT&T’s, and that none of the 3G/4G frequencies are compatible with AT&T’s. That’s a lot of education, and a lot of headache!

Via: Businessweek