Sprint and others in the WiMAX partnership have agreed to contribute more money to the 4G wireless technology despite the view by some that WiMAX is the poor stepchild of 4G and that LTE is the anointed. The problem is that they have fallen into a nomenclature trap. 4G technologies are alike in that they’re the generation after 3G, but WiMAX and LTE are in different families, and in truth are not likely to be very competitive.
WiMAX is aimed at migratory users who operate from a small number of fixed locations in some random sequence—hence our name for the group and the behavior. LTE is a successor to 3G mobile service, largely aimed at a mobile or at least a regularly moving population. The preferred LTE instrument is the smartphone; for WiMAX, it’s the tablet or the netbook.
We think Sprint and its allies are on to something here. Wireless behavior is constrained by its device support, and little devices are not great vehicles with which to view content or even web pages. Yes, there will be many iPhone and Android lovers who will use their mobile devices from fixed locations, but we think a large number of users will adopt a larger device designed for sedentary applications in cafes and other locations.
There’s still plenty of time (and ways) to mess this up, but we think Sprint could redeem its position with WiMAX. In fact, it’s the only way it can do that. Sprint is cutting its workforce, which hardly speaks favorably about its prospects with normal cellular services.