The article you can’t afford to miss. How Sprint will be the first carrier to reach, deploy, and sell 4G in the United States.
“You Know, We Hear This A Lot” A bit of a sidebar before we spill the beans yet again. Our articles have a very broad audience. There are people that are in the industry that will open their eyes at the first two paragraphs, and find the rest of the article as uninteresting. There are those that will have trouble understanding this article, but wowed all the same at what is to come. And there will be the eternal “speculation labeler” who will say we’re making this all up. The truth of the matter is, PCS Intel over the past two-and-a-half years has changed the industry. We give people the whole picture at the same time as making the picture clearer for everyone.
So, from the enthusiast to the insider, we report in this way not to anger companies like Sprint, Clearwire, the Federal Government, Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon, the WiMAX forum… you get the idea, but to inform. What we report is already in the minds, eyes, and ears of those that make the changes in the industry, we simply shorten the time to when you can know and understand this information, that’s what intel is, and that’s why we are PCS Intel.
WiMAX – Whoa
We’re going to drop the bombshell, Sprint has given internal decisions, barring any unforeseen changes, to adopt WiMAX over all competing standards as their new wireless broadband technology. While reporting on the internal decision making process could be considered, as Sprint calls it, “rumor and speculation”, WiMAX towers have been favored in ATL test labs since before the merger, and in addition, the IEEE certification of 802.16e fixed WiMAX has given Sprint a firm standard that they can plan network deployments on a national level with.
However, there is a secondary bombshell, how Sprint will deploy WiMAX. Sprint has come up with an independent solution that combines both WiMAX standards of fixed and mobile. We call it WiMAX “Hydra”, but we’re sure we didn’t coin the term. The system will first use fixed WiMAX, leveraging large towers with general line of sight across a city, to deploy to mobile WiMAX base stations without line of sight to mobile handsets and in-building modems.
If this sounds a lot like a cell phone system, it is. The key advantage here is that the local loops, the bandwidth needed to get to the mobile base stations is now wireless. The advantage here is obvious; wireless carriers can increase bandwidth to an entire city by adding bandwidth to one or at most, a few points in a major metropolitan area.
So, let’s look again at performance. In our last WiMAX/WiBro article, we placed theoretical bandwidth limits across the map. We’re now ready to place targets in time to those speeds. The initial deployments of WiMAX, which will begin within the next three years, will have an effective maximum of 10 megabits per mobile base station modem. This means 10 mbps per relay at a minimum. This bandwidth level can be increased, of course dependent on spectrum available. The benefit is that Sprint here can use multiple frequencies that do not need to be in phones to achieve this “layering” of connections. For example, Sprint could use 700 MHZ for handsets and deploy 1700 and 2100 MHz bandwidth to towers. This could dramatically reduce the cost of deploying WiMAX modems, Sprint would make them single band for consumers, while centralizing the costs of tri-band base stations at the network level.
What this means is that Sprint can make local decisions on how much bandwidth to deploy for tasks, based on available spectrum and consumer demand. If it is cost-effective to compete with DSL, Sprint can compete with it on a market-to-market basis. The same principle applies to even higher bandwidth connections such as cable, and quite a ways down the road, FIOS.
But, wait, there’s more. WiMAX will mature, and by 2015, Sprint and WiMAX insiders expect the network connections that are 10 mbps currently, to grow exponentially to 50 mbps. With a per-link speed of 50 mbps, Sprint will be in a position to compete with Cable and Satellite providers with IPTV and the ability to deliver HDTV to homes. When combined with MediaFLO style broadcast algorithms, along with successors to H.264, Sprint will likely be able to achieve this before 2015. This is where 4G gets its name.
Every conventional definition of 4G is measured by how it will change consumption of service, from roaming to entertainment on a personal level. The “vision” of 4G is that it will deliver a paradigm shift in service consumption as powerful as all existing services of a cellular phone affected the technological state of the end of the 20th century. It has traditionally not been measured in bits and bytes. By bundling WiMAX internet connectivity with WiMAX VoIP, CDMA nationwide coverage, and HDTV, individual customers will be able to have control over their bandwidth resources. For example, customers surfing the web will share that bandwidth with their HDTV, and the network will prioritize the most crucial systems first. Currently, Sprint labs are testing VoIP standards that will negotiate with multiple connections, so your calls will share bandwidth with your TV, along with your internet connectivity. These kind of QoS controls are essential for 4G growth.
But premium services are also a critical advantage to WiMAX. By having not just combined billing, but combined service access, Sprint will be able to offer options that are almost impossible to imagine for the typical consumer today. Many examples Sprint is attempting to perfect right now include the ability for WiMAX laptops and CDMA phones to access the same HDTV channels a customer can watch on their WiMAX HDTV. The common conventions of fixed services not being portable will end with WiMAX.
But, there is a big but to this. WiMAX cannot be deployed across 3000 miles for decades to come. It is simply not possible to feasibly deploy a fiber optics network that spans from the tip of Washington to the Florida Keys. Sprint will instead continue to use a national conventional wireless structure, and mature that network much more slowly to 4G, and will bundle services, such as they have begun with cable operators, in order to continue their combined billing strategy at a national level. In a non-WiMAX market, customers will be able to access cable channels on Sprint TV, just as seamlessly as Sprint’s shared bandwidth strategy in major metropolitan areas.
CDMA – The Other Wireless Meat
Many have counted CDMA out in the 4G game. This is mostly due to Qualcomm’s recent investments in Flash-OFDM technologies. However, OFDM is meant to compete internally with CDMA, as well as compliment supplemental technologies the company can profit from right now, such as MediaFLO.
By allowing CDMA to compete internally with OFDM, Qualcomm will be able to pick the winner and deploy it globally as “the new standard in wireless communication”. However, politics will also affect Qualcomm’s decision. Qualcomm’s full intention in the 4G game to compete and integrate with WiMAX is to provide the network that will extend out into areas where WiMAX is not an option due to cost. If OFDM is attractive to carriers as a replacement to WiMAX, something which companies like T-Mobile are seriously considering, Qualcomm may also pitch CDMA to WiMAX carriers while offering OFDM as a complete package for carriers like T-Mobile.
The Flarion sidebar is that the company itself is a sidebar. Many speculated that when Sprint merged with Nextel that Flash-OFDM was a lock for Sprint’s choice for wireless broadband. They became instantly wrong the moment Sprint began sampling both WiMAX and WiBro chipsets. The truth of the matter is, buying companies for the perceived use of a technology is not always the direct conclusion that should be reached. Qualcomm is now dominant in both OFDM and CDMA, this gives them the room to chose which is best, or, ensure one technology doesn’t become popular.
But, since we are focusing on Sprint, we will stipulate for the rest of this article that CDMA does prevail over OFDM. This is not really speculation, simply a statement to prevent this article from being overly murky… evaluating OFDM as the replacement to CDMA does not affect the deployment itself. If OFDM is to take the place of CDMA, it is interchangeable with CDMA in the remainder of this article, and for Sprint’s purposes.
The politics behind CDMA is clear, Qualcomm can be the hero of the GSM world by offering attractive licenses and HLR/AC core network transitional systems to allow for transition from UMTS to CDMA 4G. We’ve covered this in-depth in past articles, but, to summarize, CDMA 4G offers competition to WiMAX in that, if it succeeds, it will be the only 4G wireless communications standard in use. It will quite simply, work wherever you go. By carriers like Sprint embracing CDMA as well as WiMAX, this will only be extended on by removing the need for WiMAX when roaming internationally. This leverage may convince smaller carriers to only deploy CDMA 4G.
CDMA 4G’s performance will lag behind WiMAX. However, that’s not to say it should be written off. CDMA 4G will likely re-surface as a form of 3xEV-DV. The 3x EV-DV format will resemble 5 MHz control channels, similar to UMTS, which will be attractive to European carriers as well as Cingular because it will not require tower re-alignment. Its speed will rival the initial deployments of WiMAX at an effective maximum of 9 mbps per handset (a single megabit away from WiMAX). Unfortunately, due to the lack of a fiber backbone, as well as the lack of that fiber backbone to provide speeds close to 9 mbps per handset (remember, WiMAX towers will have 10 mbps to all customers), speeds will be limited significantly.
This of course begs the question, if a 4G CDMA is not going to yield performance improvements due to bandwidth constraints, why deploy it? The answer to that is simple, it won’t be deployed until it is needed. Delusions of deploying a post-EV-DO network at the same time as WiMAX simply will not happen. EV-DV Rel A will be nationwide when WiMAX is maturing into a deployment similar to where EV-DO Rel 0 is today. Meaning, EV-DO+WiMAX dual handsets will be proliferated long before any 4G CDMA advance is made.
This really does give insight as to why EV-DV was placed on indefinite hold. EV-DV’s advantages, aside from video conferencing, could not be actualized until long after EV-DO would be a sunk cost to carriers. This gave Qualcomm time to mature the standard, and make it attractive to the GSM world. In addition, it will cost less, and provide room to grow.
Let’s bring this all together. The first step to 4G is of course, WiMAX. Once an effective fiber backbone is deployed, WiMAX will be able to deliver enough bandwidth to emerge as a 4G technology. 4G will fall back to 3G with EV-DO Rel A in markets where WiMAX is either ineffective or too expensive. Once bandwidth, FIOS, and fiber cocktails emerge nationally, it will become effective to upgrade CDMA to 4G, and allow for a global wireless standard.
To the consumer, this means that Sprint can be your broadband ISP, and your wireless provider by the time the decade is out. By 2015, Sprint will have an effective bandwidth level to deliver all cable company capacities in a major metropolitan area, as well as provide handsets that will work wherever in the world. Some in the industry speculate that at this point, Sprint will be attractive as a buyout target to cable operators, however, Sprint may be too large to be an acquisition target. Sprint is playing both sides of the cable game, and does realize the potential for future combinations with cable companies. However, the main reason for the cable deals, as we have stated before, is to begin to gain relationships to allow for Sprint to do as they have always done… whatever possible to ensure all your services work the same, wherever you are. The big difference with 4G is, those services will stretch into broadband wireless, television, and ensuring transparent mobility over conventional fixed entertainment services.
But, the bottom line is clear. Sprint is the first company in North America to have a cogent vision for 4G, a vision that will allow them to potentially dominate the wireless industry as voice calling becomes increasingly marginalized when put with VoIP, broadband wireless, and portability of entertainment with HD clarity. In our extensive research, no other national carrier has reached this level of planning, with key timeframes set internally. When they do, we’ll break it here first.