CTIA: Sprint, Clearwire CEOs talk about the rise of 4G

At CTIA, the CEOs of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire talk about the rise of 4G technology.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Special Report: CTIA Wireless

Day 2 of the CTIA Wireless show kicked off with a Q&A with Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel. We could almost have written the agenda for the Q&A before Hesse took to the stage - the 4G HTC Evo and the rollout of WiMax.

The session kicked off with an explanation of 4Gs role in today's mobile environment. At the heart of it, it's an entertainment play for consumers. That is, without a powerful 4G network, the ability to grow the video offerings is limited. But as WiMax finally starts to roll out, it's hard to ignore the forthcoming Long Term Evolution, or LTE, as being a stronger, more vibrant technology. So why did Sprint choose to head down the WiMax path?

Also see: Sprint, Clearwire rev 4G: What's the shelf life for WiMax?

Photo Gallery: 4G HTC Evo

In a nutshell, it came down to time to market. Hesse explained that WiMax, at the time Sprint chose to go down that route, was the "tried and true tested working 4G technology that existed in the ecosystem." The company faced a choice: go WiMax or wait for LTE. In the Q&A, he said:

I'll be frank. LTE will most likely be the larger of the two 4G standards. For us, though, was that we coudn't wait.

Sprint had the spectrum it needed to take the WiMax route and wanted to get ahead of the competitors. That's the "competitive advantage" that Sprint has right now. Others are waiting for a faster connections; Sprint is already here.

CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent lobbed some softball questions at Hesse and didn't really hold him to the decisions to go WiMax instead of LTE. He jumped out of the WiMax/LTE issue and asked a couple of other questions:  How will 4G help businesses - including health care, education, law enforcement and so on - and how will 4G change the devices? Hesse gave a few examples of how doctors and patients can better communicate and how medical personnel can have better access to critical information and then talked about a potential new line of devices - entertainment devices that might not even have phones. Of course, since we're talking about the future, Hesse gave the same answer anyone else might have: Who knows what the future might bring?


OK, but as Hesse left the stage, his counterpart at Clearwire - CEO William Morrow -- joined Largent on stage. Out of the gate, the questions weren't much tougher. Morrow was asked about what it was like to have so many "bosses," referring to the company's board being comprised of execs from companies with different interests. Then, he went on about Morrow's resume and how it has influenced the work at Clearwire.

From there, it was a bit of a history lesson about Clearwire and some insight into trends that are happening today. The bottom line was that we have to start looking at things differently, a new type of network structure that rethinks the carrier's approach toward mobile broadband. To drive home the point, he used the example of today's WiFi home networks. Yes, there's a pipeline coming into a home but, via WiFi, there are multiple devices connected to that pipeline - computers, gaming devices, handhelds and so on. How that signal is distributed around once it hits the end user shouldn't matter. The same should eventually be said about mobile broadband, he said.

As the session came to a close, Largent finally asked about this WiMax/LTE war. Morrow said he wouldn't call it a technology war. WiMax has a long shelf life, he said, and he believes that initially the two can live side by side in the market, with overlap in place.

With that said, the spectrum is designed to be able to add LTE later, Morrow said, leaving the door open to make the switch at a later date:

If we need to, we can sunset one technology in the future. Once we reach a point where LTE is the same or better than WiMax, then we can be ready to go that route.

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