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Sprint, Nokia Ink WiMAX Deal

World?s largest cell phone maker will be a major WiMAX network supplier, but Sprint is still looking.

Sprint Nextel, the third largest mobile carrier in the United States, on Friday said it is hunting for application developers and content providers for the rollout of its $3-billion WiMAX network, which is expected to launch by the end of the year.

The carrier also said it has chosen Nokia, the world?s largest cell phone maker, to supply network equipment and cell phones for the deployment of the world?s first major WiMAX network.

Nokia will join its rivals Motorola and Samsung, along with the world?s largest chip-maker Intel, as the first four companies chosen by Sprint Nextel to participate in the planning, design, and construction of its WiMAX network.

When Sprint Nextel announced its intention in August to build a high-speed, mobile data network based on WiMAX, an emerging broadband wireless technology, the company wakened a sleeping WiMAX product market.

The once-exciting WiMAX market went into a kind of limbo as Wi-Fi emerged as a short-range alternative for mobile data, and data services based on cellular networks became widely available.

On paper both Wi-Fi and cellular data services are inferior to WiMAX. Wi-Fi operates at very short range only while WiMAX promises a range of up to 30 miles. With bandwidth of about 70 megabits per second, WiMAX will outstrip cellular data networks.

WiMAX will also be the most mobile of the three. It has been tested to retain its connection at highway speeds.

WiMAX Excitement

Sprint Nextel?s WiMAX network has created new excitement among WiMAX suppliers who have spent most of the last couple of years arguing over standards and product timetables.

?Sprint is now the lead WiMAX customer globally, and it has triggered a lot of interest in the technology around the world,? said Mark Slater, Nokia?s vice president of sales and marketing. ?Countries around the world are following Sprint?s lead so you are seeing markets such as Italy issuing WiMAX licenses.?

Nokia, which has had a kind of on-again, off-again relationship with the WiMAX Forum, will supply transmission devices, WiMAX-compatible cell phones, along with Internet tablets and other mobile devices.

Nokia, one of the founding members of the WiMAX Forum in 2004, quit the forum over differences over the direction of the WiMAX standard, only to rejoin the forum later.

But a top-tier U.S. carrier with deep pockets and a wealth of wireless spectrum can make academic differences among suppliers disappear rather quickly.

More Suppliers

Sprint Nextel is not finished with signing suppliers. The company is still casting about for application developers that specialize in mobile communications, access device vendors, and content owners.

?Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, and Intel will help us with the network, but once we have that, we need something to run over it so we are looking for developers and content providers,? said John Polivka, a spokesperson for Sprint Nextel.

?You hear a lot about TV over cell phones, but WiMAX makes it possible for consumers to watch TV on their ultra-portable mobile PCs, media players, or gaming stations, or Internet TV in their cars,? he concluded. ?WiMAX opens a whole new distribution channel.?

Shares of Sprint Nextel fell $0.37 to $19.28 in recent trading, while Nokia shares dropped $1.05 to $19.87, and Intel shares slipped $0.11 to $21.06.

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