With LightSquared deal, is Sprint 4G WiMax dead?

Is Sprint WiMax 4G dead?

By now, you’ve heard the big news that Sprint and LightSquared are partnering to build out a 4G LTE network and this could give the carrier a next-generation mobile data network which can match AT&T and Verizon’s 4G networks. But what will happen to your existing WiMax 4G handset and will devices like the Photon 4G be bad investments?

The short answer is that Sprint will likely continue to run its WiMax 4G network for many years to come, so your existing handset or a new one you acquire should be fine for the next couple of years for a few reasons. First of all, Sprint’s not stupid and it knows that it doesn’t have the power to just piss off tons of WiMax 4G users by saying that their phones are now obsolete. Sprint also has ran the iDen network alongside its CDMA and WiMax network for years and it is just now weaning people off iDen.

To be fair, Sprint spokesperson Scott Sloat told us that the company isn’t going all in on 4G LTE just yet. In an e-mail, he said:

Just to clarify, the agreement with LightSquared is a spectrum hosting agreement where we deploy and operate an LTE network on LightSquared’s spectrum. They will then sell the capacity on a wholesale basis. Sprint will be paid $9B to do this. In addition we will receive $4.5 B in LTE credits SHOULD Sprint decide to use capacity on their network. No such decision has been made yet.

Sprint and Clearwire announced an agreement on 4/18/11 that establishes new wholesale pricing terms and expands potential market segments for both companies. In addition, the agreement provides Clearwire a minimum of $1 billion from Sprint to be paid during 2011 and 2012 for 4G wholesale services. Sprint will continue to offer 4G products and services through its wholesale relationship with Clearwire.

What he’s saying is true but it doesn’t take much reading of the tea leaves to understand that Sprint wouldn’t do this move without the intention of using LightSquared’s 4G LTE network. Couple this with the fact that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse will make a big 4G announcement this Fall and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out Sprint’s plans.

But buying a WiMax 4G phone right now isn’t stupid because if Sprint does go all in on the 4G LTE, it will take some time to deploy. Sprint’s secret weapon is that it actually has a ton of spectrum and this deal helps that but it’s still going to take time for the network to get up and running. Remember, Sprint was talking about deploying WiMax 4G for at least three years and its footprint isn’t much larger than Verizon’s 4G LTE network, which began rolling out earlier this year.

So yeah, feel free to pick up the Motorola Photon 4G or the EVO 3D on Sprint if you’re inclined because Sprint will support multiple 4G networks for years to come. Whether running multiple 4G networks is a good idea for Sprint overall is an entirely different question.

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