Sprint says WiMax on track for end of April

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Sprint Nextel is on track to launch commercial services for its next-generation WiMax high-speed wireless network at the end of April, Chief Technology Officer Barry West said on Tuesday.

Sprint Nextel Chief Technology Officer Barry West talks during the Reuters Technology Summit in New York March 1, 2006. Sprint Nextel Corp is on track to launch commercial services for its next-generation WiMax high-speed wireless network at the end of April, Chief Technology Officer Barry West said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Lucian Read

Speaking on a WiMax panel at the Consumer Electronics Show, West said Sprint would sell the service at reasonable rates with options including per day, week or month, as well as longer term contracts.

But unlike typical phone services, Sprint does not plan to subsidize WiMax devices for customers.

“People will be excited about our rates. They won’t be ecstatic about them because we’re not going to give it away,” said West. WiMax service fees could also be included in the purchase price of devices, such as WiMax-enabled cameras.

Asked about the risks of introducing services based on a commercially untested technology during an economic downturn, West said he was not concerned and had not seen any signs of a pullback in electronics spending so far.

“I really don’t see it,” West said in an interview with Reuters. “The fourth quarter for the consumer electronics industry ... was different, but it wasn’t bad.”

Sprint hopes WiMax will help the No. 3 U.S. mobile service stand out from the competitors it has been losing ground to, including AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

West said he is talking to operators developing WiMax services around the world to set up roaming agreements that make it easier for customers to use their devices abroad.

“Roaming will be much more like the Wi-Fi world than it will be in the world of cellular phones,” he said.

Wi-Fi, a shorter range predecessor of WiMax, is mostly used in laptops today and is commonly available in coffee shops and other public places around the world.

It plans to offer only a data card for laptops and a modem for desktop computers when it kicks off the service, and has no immediate plans to sell phones that include the technology, West said. Other devices will be sold through electronics retailers rather than Sprint, he said.

West said he expects up to 10 WiMax devices to be available at the time Sprint launches its service. One of them is a Web browsing device that Nokia plans to sell.

Fred Wright, a senior vice president for Motorola Inc’s wireless network equipment unit, said his company would have a multimedia wireless device ready for the market at the end of the third quarter or start of the fourth quarter. The device would support voice but calling would not be its main feature, Wright said.

West also said a Korean company that he declined to name would start to sell a dedicated gaming device for WiMax in the first quarter of 2009.

Sprint plans to kick off commercial services in the three markets which have been testing the technology since December: Baltimore, Washington, DC and Chicago.

He would not comment beyond the initial plans as new Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse is reviewing future plans amid criticism over the previously announced plan to spend $5 billion on the WiMax network by 2010.

Sprint’s initial technology suppliers for the service include Nokia, Samsung Electronics, Motorola and Nokia Siemens, a joint venture of Nokia and German network equipment maker Siemens AG. Chip maker Intel Corp is also a big promoter of WiMax.

Editing by Richard Chang