As LTE continues to gain momentum around the world, and especially in the U.S., it looks like Sprint might be switching 4G gears. During a roundtable discussion at Mobile World Congress, Sprint’s senior vice president of networks, Bob Azzi, said that the carrier will watch how many of its customers migrate from EV-DO to mobile WiMAX over the next 4 to 6 months and then evaluate the best way to use its existing spectrum. As reported by FierceWireless, Sprint could decide to deploy LTE, potentially leaving Mobile WiMax for dead.
In our testing Sprint’s Mobile WiMax 4G network (powered by Clear) has been faster than the HSPA+ networks offered by AT&T and T-Mobile thus far (especially the former). However, WiMax still gets smoked by Verizon’s 4G LTE data cards–especially on the uplodas–and LTE phones like the HTC Thunderbolt should be launching soon. According to GigaOm, switching from Mobile WiMax to LTE involves a card swap as opposed to reconfiguring all the gear at the base stations or its tower network. Somehow we don’t think it’s that simple, and it’s hard to say whether Sprint’s current swath of 4G spectrum (in the 2.5 GHz band) is really optimized for LTE.
Even if switching from LTE to Moible WiMax was as easy as flicking a switch, the WiMax radios inside today’s phones simply wouldn’t be compatible with an LTE network. Plenty of shoppers might think twice about about buying a Mobile WiMax handset if they thought it was a dead-end technology
On the other hand, Sprint might not have a choice but to change course given the strength of the LTE ecosystem, and we presume the carrier will figure out a migration path that doesn’t leave its customers out in the cold. The decision will take months to make, but the actual transition will take years.