WiMAX, currently offered by Sprint, and LTE – available though Verizon and AT&T are the two major contenders for nationwide 4G service.
Sprint – the first major carrier to offer 4G service and phones – offers its 4G service using WiMAX.
LTE is quickly gaining momentum as carriers in the US and around the world adopt the technology for their 4G networks. That’s a problem for Sprint. Although Sprint was the first to market with a 4G network, its network uses WiMAX which no other carriers offer, making Sprint’s network the lone standout.
Sprint currently partners with Clearwire to provide its nationwide WiMAX service, primarily because Clearwire has extensive spectrum licence holdings in the the 2.5Ghz band – perfect for WiMAX. In an effort to continue its WiMAX expansion, Clearwire offered about $1.1 billion in debt offerings through private transactions and laid off about 15% of its staff.
Sprint has not offered Clearwire cash to expand its WiMAX network because, it is speculated, Sprint may be considering putting its resources into LTE. Sprint does not have any direct control over Clearwire’s spectrum holdings, making it less attractive to invest in their holdings. As a result of the lack of cash and direction, Sprint’s expansion into new markets has slowed, almost to a complete stop.
It’s known that Sprint does have enough spectrum licences to offer LTE-based 4G in other markets. Sprint’s competitors are boosting speeds and aggressively expanding their networks to include more markets, putting pressure on Sprint to stay competitive. Yet Sprint’s slowing expansion of WiMAX infrastructure suggests that Sprint may no longer see WiMAX as a contender in terms of capacity and speed.
A possibility approach to offer both LTE and WiMAX to users could be to build-out an LTE network that compliments Clearwire’s WiMAX infrastructure. Only tri-band phones would be able to offer wireless users a seamless experience.
Clearwire offers another interesting possibility – bundle LTE over it’s WiMAX network. This move would expand Clearwire’s LTE offerings enough to have capacity available to lease spectrum to carriers other than Sprint.
Sprint is reportedly in talks with LightSquared, which provides satellite-based 4G LTE service. LightSquared could sell its 4G service to Sprint wholesale, yet these talks are preliminary.
Sprint has publicly stated that it will make its decision about switching to LTE within about six months, based on users adoption of its current offerings and other factors.