Sprint Gets Lined up Behind WiMAX

by Colin C. Haley

The carrier partners with Motorola to test 802.16e gear and says more deals are in the works.

Sprint is the latest telecommunications player to lay the groundwork for testing WiMAX , the yet-unproven wireless standard for high speed metropolitan networks.

The Overland Park, Kan., telecom carrier is launching lab and field tests with Motorola on base stations, antennas and multimedia handsets in order to put the 802.11e standard, and its very high bit rates, through its paces. The company said trials would stretch into 2006.

It's still unclear exactly how WiMAX will fit into Sprint's plans, but officials have said it could complement other wireless technologies, such as third-generation voice and data, Wi-Fi and Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO).

Dan Coombes, senior vice president of wireless broadband networks and CTO of Motorola Networks, said the Sprint agreement is the company's first announced trial of WiMAX 802.16e equipment.

"We've been researching and testing OFDM , the underlying technology for WiMAX, for some time and announced key test results last summer," he said.

WiMAX supports very high bit rates in uploading and downloading from a base station up to a distance of 30 miles. Advocates say it could bring super high-speed Internet access, VoIP and other services to rural areas, office parks and school campuses at a cheaper price than traditional methods.

In addition, WiMAX systems could be used as a piece of a service provider's infrastructure, backhauling traffic from carriers' main networks to alleviate congestion and trim costs.

Some independent providers are already using networks that contain several WiMAX specifications. Fixed-wireless broadband provider TowerStream, for example, announced yesterday that it has expanded its service to Brooklyn and Queens.

Besides Sprint, Motorola and Intel, a number of carriers and equipment makers are testing WiMAX equipment, including AT&T , Nortel and LG Electronics.

But some industry heavy hitters are still unconvinced, saying that WiMAX lacks a compelling application and risks being overshadowed by alternate wireless broadband technologies.

Still, Sprint is pressing on, as are other industry players. Earlier this year, Sprint joined the WiMAX Forum in order to help hammer out interoperability standards. It has also partnered with Intel in order to test 802.16e equipment and interoperability.

"More [partnerships] are due in the coming weeks," John Polikva, a Sprint spokesman, told internetnews.com. "We are building an ecosystem of technology partners that are crucial to wireless broadband opportunity development."

This article was originally published on Thursday Jun 30th 2005