4G Crosscurrents: Sprint-Clearwire Expands Market with EVO 4G. Qualcomm stirs up India BWA Auction

Our attention focuses on recent and upcoming announcements that peg events for rapidly evolving next generation wireless competition. From the view of the author, among the many events, the top two events that stand out most are:

  • Sprint-Clearwire’s announcement of the HTC EVO Android 2.1, 4G WebPhone
  • Qualcomm’s intent to bid on the India auction following April 9th for BWA with TD-LTE

Sprint’s CEO, Dan Hesse, is expected to unveil the HTC Supersonic, officially announced as under the EVO 4G brand name, a leading-edge SmartPhone that will be the first market-leading phone to work on both 3G and Clearwire’s WiMAX network during his keynote address and in press briefings at CTIA.   The EVO 4G is a successor of the well reviewed HTC HD2 model. Specifications include:

  • 4.3″ TFT, (~ 1/3 larger than the iPhone)
  • 3G/4G WiFi hotspot extension capability
  • 8 MP Primary Camera with Dual LED; Auto focus, Digital zoom
  • 1.3 MP front-facing camera targeted at BB hogging social networking, web-casting of pictures and streaming video
  • Kickstand for stationary use incl. HDTV viewing
  • 3.5mm Head Jack
  • Clearwire WiMAX, Sprint 3G data network coverage
  • Stereo Bluetooth
  • GPS, proximity and motion sensors
  • Digital compass
  • 1 GB ROM
  • 512 RAM
  • 1,500 mAh battery
  • 1GHZ Snapdragon
  • MicroUSB and MicroSD card clot
  • Micro HDMI
  • Qualcomm 1 GHz Snapdragon processor with EVDO
  • Sequans WiMAX chip
  • Social networking with most popular sites
  • Android market access to over 30,000 applications

The EVO 4G represents that the WiMAX ecosystem and deployments have crossed a long anticipated threshold as a competitive full featured converged network. Clearwire and Sprint will look for entry of this and other subscriber-growth driving Android and Microsoft Mobile 7 devices that will be introduced over the next year to ramp sales sharply. While it can be argued that Clearwire’s primary strengths lie in wireless broadband, more as an adjunct to other networks rather than as a mobile hand-held device juggernaut, the onus on 4G providers will be to fulfill a pallet of market needs.

The device category that has become the most subscriber grabbing and, therefore, greatest threshold for capturing mind and market share is the leading edge of the SmartPhone and larger form-factor MID devices. Sprint-Clearwire takes the BB strengths of the NG network to deliver more fully on the promise of 4G: full-tilt-boogey broadband anywhere. Of necessity, Clearwire’s first priority has been to build out a substantial network footprint. Regardless of the value proposition of the WiMAX/3G combination, leading edge devices require large markets to sell into. As Clearwire has reached around 50 million POPs currently and expects to cover over 110 by early 2011, the draw for handset providers has crossed a threshold. The remaining details of the EVO 4G are almost unimportant: it follows previous HTC units which have improved over time to become challengers to the iPhone, Motorola DROID, which is similarly based on Android OS. Price and availability of the device and service plans are keys to success. If married to similar Sprint’s aggressive always connected package strategy, the EVO 4G may carve out a revival for Sprint and a surge in subscriber growth for Clearwire. No

‘Lines in the Sky’ On the other side of the world, Qualcomm entered the fray for the week of April 9th BWA auction in India. This throws a new wrinkle into the development of 4G and causes reflection on the ‘Clash of the Titans’ between mobile wireless and ITC worlds:

  • One of WiMAX’ primary tenets has been that standards should develop based on the merits of underlying technology
  • Furthermore, spectrum should be regulated and used as technology agnostic
  • IEEE 802.16, 3GPP, and related standards groups have evolved efforts towards use of IP for multiple services from embedded machine to machine, MtM, to high-end mobile devices
  • As Qualcomm lost their gambit to promote UMB as a worldwide standard for 4G, they became a strong advocate for LTE with their IPR licensing position ostensibly in long term jeopardy.

The Qualcomm bid could have a number of possible repercussions:

  1. Delay of use of a portion of the spectrum. However, the auctions are arranged so that no bidder can block development in a specific geography.
  2. Prying away of some WiMAX deployments to LTE, particularly the TD-LTE version spearheaded by the Chinese.
  3. An increased market potential for WiMAX/LTE multiple mode chipsets.

Each of these events portrays how much the industry has converged: WiMAX is crossing the threshold to become more mainstream, even while limited by spectrum access. LTE a close cousin in terms of technology is being positioned as both a BWA as well as next generation mobile network. Sprint and Clearwire’s recent interviews further clarify that the company is, after all, a network operator rather than a religious technology advocate. Sprint’s choice of the name “EVO 4G” is particularly well suited and telling: one flavor of technology or the other does not shackle The ‘nature’ of devices on IP networks. In fact, the major reason for the disruptive shift to open applications development environments and open ‘all-IP’ WRAN, wireless radio access, has been to allow greater degree of freedom from specific hardware network and device environments. The introduction of the EVO 4G marks a capstone event for the coming together of broadband and wireless.

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