Sprint Brings WiMAX to Virgin and Boost Mobile

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse announced today in an earnings conference call that his company’s prepaid brands, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, will launch prepaid WiMAX 4G service just as Sprint is moving away from WiMAX towards LTE.

Virgin and Boost, which offer prepaid voice, will now get broadband access using WiMAX. No word on costs or when Sprint will bring LTE to Virgin and Boost, although executives said it may eventually happen. Clear currently offers unlimited WiMAX for $50/month.

Sprint’s WiMAX network covers about a third of the U.S. population. It will remain live until 2015. Sprint is trying to move their smartphone customers off WiMAX to their new FD-LTE service at 1.9 GHz. Smart phones with embedded LTE chips are now becoming available – even though Sprint’s FD-LTE service won’t be available until the later half of 2012. Sprint plans to launch FD-LTE in 10 markets by the end of June and promises nationwide FD-LTE coverage by the end of 2013.

Sprint’s Network Vision integrates 800 MHz, PCS and eventually 2.6 GHz under one umbrella. Around 3,000 Network Vision cell sites are under construction in 17 markets, reports Fierce Wireless. Sprint expects to have around 12,000 cell sites with new multi-mode base stations online by year-end. Sprint is seeing a doubling of the coverage range on its 800 MHz legacy band, which is moving from Nextel iDEN service to voice on Sprint’s network.

Clearwire’s WiMAX network isn’t expanding, but it’s currently available in big cities, where most of the Virgin and Boost customers are located. Clearwire’s WiMax network will apparently work in parallel with Clearwire’s new TD-LTE service which isn’t expected to launch until 2013.

PC Magazine says because Clearwire owns so much radio spectrum, there isn’t likely to be any reduction in capacity on the WiMAX network for years. But Fierce Wireless says Clearwire’s new TD-LTE service may use 20 MHz of the current 30 MHz channel capacity used by WiMAX. Still, a lot could change in a year.

Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile will have to compete with free WiMAX service from FreedomPop and NetZero

FreedomPop, backed by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, is developing an iPhone 4/4S case that provides free wireless broadband. Using Clearwire’s WiMax system, FreedomPop’s “freemium” WiMax service will deliver up to 1GB/month at no cost. It’s an iPhone 4/4S case with an integrated WiMax radio. It provides a handy mobile hotspot the iPhone can use.

FreedomPop charges 1¢ for every megabyte over that free cap. That’s $10/GB, a fairly typical overage fee.

If FreedomPop actually offers 1GB of free data per month, then AT&T, Verizon and Sprint could face rough sledding, says Forbes.

NetZero Wireless, a subsidiary of United Online, is launching NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband, an inexpensive WiMax service for laptops, tablets and netbooks. NetZero’s data plans start at zero dollars a month. All data plans, including the free plan, requires the purchase of either a $99 NetZero 4G HotSpot or the $49 NetZero 4G Stick.

NetZero is reselling WiMAX service from Clear, according to Engadget. The free service is limited to 200MB of data a month. Basic $9.95/month service is limited to 500 MB/mo. You get 1 GB/month with the $19.95/month service.

Clearwire and China Mobile formed the Global TD-LTE Initiative to promote the time division flavor of LTE and harmonize global standards.

TD-LTE, of course, uses only one channel (like WiFi) for both transmitting and receiving. While range can be less, the advantages of TD-LTE include more efficient spectrum use (one channel is not wasted while “listening”), and fewer radio components which makes MIMO and beam forming more practical on both the tower and handset. The latest chips from Qualcomm support both flavors of LTE, as well as China Mobile’s own 3G standard, TD-SCDMA, in a variety of frequencies, mostly in the 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands.

To date nearly all global launches of LTE have used the FDD version of the technology. The TDD version of LTE is expected to gain traction in India, China and with US operators Clearwire and Sprint. The China Mobile launch this year and Indian launch, anticipated next year, could propel the standard into a major global force.

Worldwide, 10 telecom carriers have announced plans for commercial TD-LTE networks and 32 will set up experimental networks. Smartphones equipped with the latest Qualcomm, Marvell or Huawei chips might work internationally, on China Mobile, India, Clearwire or other networks. Huawei’s mobile hotspot can use TD/FD LTE for the backhaul as well as GSM/UMTS. China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou has said his company is in talks with Apple to launch an iPhone with its network.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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