Like team members before a big game, the players in the race for high-speed
networks are lining up. On Thursday, Sprint Nextel announced that it had chosen Google to provide search, interactive communications, and social networking for the portal on its upcoming mobile WiMax
. And last week, Sprint announced that it would partner with rival Clearwire to jointly create the first U.S.-wide mobile broadband WiMax network.
Sprint and Google said that their collaboration will include new forms of location-centric services, which will be tied into the applications in the Google Apps suite, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Talk. Sprint executives said that the Google services will be offered free and supported by ads.
With this deal, Google is gaining another foothold in the wireless world. Recently, the company has been a very visible leader in the open-access discussion surrounding the upcoming U.S. government auction of spectrum in the 700-MHz band. Google has said it is ready to commit at least $4.6 billion to participate in the bidding.
APIs for Outside Developers
Google is not the only possible provider for the new mobile WiMax network. Sprint said it will provide application programming interfaces (APIs) for the creation of customized services, opening its network up to third-party partners and developers from the Internet community. Sprint said it sees those services available through a wide array of WiMax-capable devices.
The deal with Google adds momentum to WiMax, said Lewis Ward, an analyst with industry research firm IDC. He noted that the technology is backed by and "a lot of other companies with large pockets."
He said that high-speed mobile WiMax, expected to offer speeds up to five times as fast as 3G, will expand the Web's presence in handsets and other mobile devices and will facilitate "any high-bandwidth service such as video." This could lead to a variety of new kinds of applications, he noted, such as local TV stations being available from any location. Ward pointed out that Sprint is already in a joint venture with Comcast, Time Warner, and others.
He also said the WiMax initiatives could lead to new forms of machine-to-machine monitoring, so that a household or workplace appliance could be continuously diagnosed by other machines or, at times, monitored from anyplace by their owners.
The Sprint-Clearwire Network
Such innovative uses for WiMax might not be too long in coming. Commercial service for the joint Sprint-Clearwire WiMax network is scheduled for Spring of next year, with as many as 100 million people being covered by the end of 2008. Testing is planned to take place soon in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, DC.
The Sprint-Clearwire partnership, which will be marketed under a common brand, is intended to reduce overall construction and operating costs for the new nationwide network. Each company will continue to build its own network, but will allow roaming between the networks.
Sprint said it expects to offer dual-mode CDMA-WiMax over the combined network. Ward noted that, as WiMAX is a data network and CDMA is a cellular one, phone calls might still be routed over CDMA when the network goes live.
The companies will exchange licensed spectrum, if needed, to support the entire network, and will work jointly on distribution and development of products and services. The arrangement is still subject to a final contract and federal approvals.