Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Sprint Clearwire Wi-MAX deployment plan

The recent announcements by Sprint and Clearwire to go on a Wi-MAX deployment spree, by 2008, has several interesting aspects to look after. These two firms are going on an spectrum sharing agreement based on the spectrum they have received on the latest US bid.

Sprint is having the bigger share of the agreement, roughly 65%. They plan for an deployment for about 180 million subscribers. Clearwire takes about 35% share of the deployment. It is going to have a deployment of about 150 million subscribers. By 2008 both together aims a subscriber base of 100 million. While Sprint is mostly going for deployment in the big metros Clearwire is going to exploit its broadband experience in the urban areas.

From business point of view this looks to be a very promising deal as both compensate each other in various forms. The agreement is expected to reduce the cost of deployment for Sprint by about $3 billion. Clearwire too gets benefited by the existing 3G infrastructure from Sprint.

Their convergence also makes the path of any other provider to take the Wi-MAX path much harder. As much of the broadband spectrum suitable for Wi-MAx is now hold by these two operators. On the negative side, these may lead to a monopolistic market on the Wi-MAX domain. Although the Wi-MAX, as a technology, will continue to compete with its broadband and 3-G counter parts in fixed and mobile domain.

Sprint's plan for the widespread Wi-MAX deployment is also pregnant with idea of convergence of Wi-MAX with its existing 3-G cellular network. I am sure we don't have to wait for long to see Sprint is bringing dual mode handsets to provide converged services between these two networks. They also plan to flood voice-data convergence and related applications to their network. Currently there are two popularly known ways of doing the convergence between fixed(Wi-MAX) and mobile(Cellular) networks. Using IMS(IP Multimedia Subsystem) or UMA(Unlicensed Mobile Access). At that point, Sprint's selection of one of these approaches for the convergence of Wi-MAX and 3-G, may also affect the fate of the humble, highly controversial, IMS standards.

Another reason I am particularly interested in this collaboration is because of my previous company Motorola is also hidden behind the curtains of this agreement. Motorola, who is doing quite bad since last few quarters, is the trusted vendor of both the two participating firms. Motorola had been doing considerable research and development in the Wi-MAX domain in last few years. The Sprint Clearwire deal might be a big boom for their solutions and probably a chance of survival of at least their network devision.


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26 comments:

Rajiv said...

Nice post. A few points to be noted though. Sprint's 3G network is based on 1xEVDO Rev A which is used mainly for wireless broadband on laptops. Not many handhelds support 1xEVDO yet. So dual mode devices are still some way off.

UMA has renamed as GNA (Generic Network Access) and its prospects are not very bright these days. The reason being the threat to operators circuit switched voice network. Thats still the cash cow of the Telco's.

Another important aspect of this WiMAX rollout is the promise of unlocked devices. Which means that you just have to sign up for a data plan and you are on the network. No vendor lock in. This would be a first for the US wireless market. But its yet to be confirmed.

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