Will Sprint Nextel Mobile WiMAX Limit Choice of Client Devices?

Sprint Nextel is certainly taking a stab at deploying WiMAX throughout most major cities within the U.S. For example, Sprint Nextel recently announced that Chicago and Washington D.C. will have WiMAX coverage by the end of 2007. That seems like a fairly aggressive schedule to me, but at least they’re making a worthy attempt at moving along WiMAX solutions. As the first carrier to make such a bold move with WiMAX on a nationwide rollout, it will be interesting to see how it actually pans out.

Something to understand about the Sprint Nextel WiMAX solution, however, is that no decision has been made yet on whether the system will be open or closed. If open, subscribers will be able to use just about any client device equipped with a WiMAX interface. This would be similar to connecting to the Internet through conventional Internet service providers (ISPs), which is certainly favorable to municipalities (and just any other end user).

Sprint Nextel, though, may be more inclined to make their WiMAX system closed, which will require subscribers to utilize only wireless clients enabled to work on the Sprint Nextel system. This is the same model that most cellular carriers employ today. Unfortunately, a closed system significantly limits the types of client devices that a municipality can choose to utilize.

Will Sprint Nextel make their system open or closed? Let’s hope they make it open! If closed, I wouldn’t consider it a real WiMAX system. WiMAX is supposed to promote interoperability, not limit access to a small number of client devices!

– – – – – –

Jim Geier is an independent consultant and founder of Wireless-Nets, Ltd. (), a consulting firm assisting municipalities, enterprises, hospitals, airports, and equipment providers with the development and deployment of wireless networks. Jim is the author of several books, including Deploying Voice over Wireless LANs (Cisco Press), Wireless LANs (SAMS), Wireless Networks ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ First Step (Cisco Press), Wireless Networking Handbook (Macmillan), and Network Reengineering (McGraw-Hill).


  1. Where will Sprint get all the trained staff from, where will they get all the knowledge on coverage models and propagation given this is all brand new technology?

  2. Oh, that’s very frustrating. I was at a talk in December given by Bin Shen, Sprint’s VP of broadband. He told an audience full of Silicon Valley execs that the Sprint WiMax network was going to be open to any device. I wrote up the talk here.

    I cannot imagine a better way to anger and chase away potential allies in Silicon Valley than promising them openness and then taking it away.

    Besides that, making the network open is the right move for Sprint. I hope they’ll wake up before they screw up their opportunity.

  3. Cannot imagine Sprint not using its partner (Intel) WiMAX enabled laptops on their new WiMAX deployments, which by definition will be open. What will be closed will be the Content/Applications (Walled Garden) they allow these subscribers to access.

    An equally important question for Sprint is how they plan to compete with a planned deployment of a WiFi Enabled Wireless Mesh network in Chicago specifically and other cities deploying Wireless Mesh networks?? This assumes Sprint is not able to win the Chicago RFP for Wireless-seems like a natural.

    If the WiMAX network is positioned as competition to the WiFi net they will lose out long term. What they really need do is develop a relationship with any Wireless Mesh deployment that wins and develop interoperability links between the networks-WiFi/WiMAX enabled radios from Intel will allow this. This would replace the much delayed COnvergence of WiFi & Cell (UMA/IMS solutions).

    This will be a very expensive test.