A few years ago, carriers had to decide which “4G” technology to choose going forward. Wimax was supposed to be ready at least 2-3 years before LTE, it also had the support of Intel, and was more “open” than LTE, with less restrictions set by carriers (a boon to customers). So when they had to choose which one to go, Sprint probably made the right choice with Wimax, however it’s their slow time-to-market that ended up killing the Wimax dream.
Sprint basically launched their Wimax network only 6 months before Verizon, and on top of all, LTE was already 2-3x faster at launch (now it’s much faster). I’m sure that when Sprint saw this, they started seriously consider the switch to LTE. Today, Sprint’s CEO is announcing that Sprint’s LTE deployment is already underway and it will be ready for an official launch in the first half of 2012.
The LTE deployment will continue over the next 3-5 years, and it will cost them $4-$5 billion. Sprint is not exactly one of the richest carriers right now, but it’s something they absolutely have to do to stay in the game. Unfortunately, T-mobile still hasn’t announced any LTE plans, probably because it has no money for that, but even if the merger with AT&T is denied, they should still get enough money from AT&T to deploy their own LTE network later. By then, it should become cheaper to do it, too. Four competitive carriers are better than just three.
Sprint will use LTE technology that will be compatible with Verizon’s LTE, although that doesn’t necessarily mean a Verizon phone will work on Sprint, unless the manufacturers offer a chip that supports both technologies. Sprint also has a partnership in place with Lightsquared to use their TD-LTE technology, which is slightly different, but all Sprint phones will contain chips that work with both types of technologies, so you don’t have to worry about that, unless the speeds are significantly different.
Sprint’s timing is pretty good, seeing how AT&T will soon launch their LTE network, too, though only in a handful of cities. However it’s good to see Sprint is not too much behind, and next year they could still convince customers to buy their LTE phones rather than the ones from Verizon or AT&T.
Until the transition to LTE is complete, I expect Sprint to continue to support Wimax and offer phones that work on both their Wimax and LTE networks in the next few years.