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The dust is still settling on one of the most anticipated mobile wireless strategic decisions in the history of man – Sprint’s (NYSE:S) decision to spend $2.5 to $3 billion to rollout WiMAX to as many as 100 million people by the end of 2008 with partners Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Motorola (MOT), and Samsung. But what about the other network, the nationwide 1xEV-DO Rev A network Sprint recently announced it was accelerating deployment of? What’s going on?

1. Sprint is doing both. Sprint’s press release says that it will be “creating multimode devices that will support services on both the 4G network and the 3G network [read: EV-DO] in areas outside the planned 4G coverage, and will provide voice service using the core 3G network. The 4G broadband network will offer a complementary, high-bandwidth service driven by data centric devices.” Data centric devices obviously driven by Intel. Multimode devices (e.g., phones) provided by Motorola.

2. EV-DO will be the back up for WiMAX. Read the quote again, go ahead. The plan is to have EV-DO provide coverage outside of 4G coverage. But that ain’t all. Sprint still needs a decent broadband alternative – in the same major markets as WiMAX – for devices that don’t support WiMAX.

For those trying to gauge the speed of the WiMAX rollout and the rate of adoption (after the dust has really settled), I see two places to watch carefully.

  • Handsets. The rollout of any wireless network is usually gated by the availability of mobile handheld devices. Limited availability of handsets can mean limited use of the network. Narrow application scope – or narrow range of handset types – can mean limited usefulness on the network. In the game of poker that is WiMAX, handsets are the tell, the nervous tick that tells you how fast the technology will be adopted.
  • Mobility. WiMAX’s biggest challenge going forward will be the development of true mobility. Right now, WiMAX is largely a nomadic offering similar to Wi-Fi hotspots. How soon WiMAX can support large numbers of users driving down the highway at 75 mph, and operate with the battery life expected on most phones, will determine how mobile it really is.
  • Source: Gauging WiMAX After the Dust Settles