Sprint ‘Firmly Committed to WiMAX’ But Can Add LTE Later

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Sprint has a pretty decent headstart in the next-generation 4G mobile data race, although the company’s decision to go with the WiMAX standard over the LTE standard, which many people consider to be a better long term option, has drawn some criticism in the past.

During Sprint’s earnings call today, CEO Dan Hesse was asked about the company’s decision to embrace WiMAX for its 4G data service over the seemingly-more-popular LTE standard that’s being embraced by Verizon and AT&T here in the US and several carriers in Europe.

“It’s a very legitimate question,” responded Hesse. “Why did you choose WiMAX instead of LTE? In a nutshell, if we wanted to be first in 4G, there was one technology available, working now, and there was another one coming.”

He continues:

“And also because of the nature of our 4G spectrum—and, not to get too technical—but it’s what’s called a TDD kind of spectrum. There’s two versions of LTE. There’s stuff that works on the FDD spectrum, which is the kind that Verizon has and AT&T has, and there’s the TDD spectrum, which is what we had that we contributed into ClearWire.

That date for LTE is even later. So we had the option of either being first or last. Being first with WiMAX or last with LTE… We are firmly committed to WiMAX as a 4G technology but if it’s determined it’s in our interests to possibly add LTE at a later date, that can be done.

So we don’t feel like we’re kind of in a boxed canyon, if you will, from a technology point of view… LTE will be the larger standard. Even though we have the advantage of being first with WiMAX, our competitors—because there’ll be more LTE equipment out there—will have a better cost position, long term, on LTE because of larger global scale.

So we will pay a lot of attention to that as we migrate our technology—or think about that—over the long term… It’s an important strategic issue for the company but right now, WiMAX is working well and we are committed to WiMAX. But because of the technology options that are out there, we do, if we want to, have the flexibility of adding other technologies and air interfaces to our network.”

It seems that Sprint’s left the door open to jump on the LTE bandwagon once the initiative’s up to speed. Hesse mentioned that being the first provider with a 4G network was crucial in Sprint’s attempt to turn itself around, and for those investors and customers worried that WiMAX wouldn’t be a viable long term solution for the company, Hesse’s remarks may offer some comfort.

That being said, Sprint still hasn’t built out its WiMAX network. It’s currently only available in 11 states and Sprint’s seemingly easy decision to eventually jump to LTE may leave some wondering whether it’s even worth it to completely build out the WiMAX network between now and the time LTE will be an option for the company. Customers, especially, may wonder if they should invest in WiMAX-compatible equipment now or wait for LTE to arrive.