HTC EVO 4G seen as next bet in Sprint's WiMax gamble

Sprint needs the smart phone to promote its WiMax technology

LAS VEGAS -- Sprint Nextel on Tuesday launched its first WiMax-capable phone, the HTC EVO 4G, at the CTIA trade show, and said its faster WiMax network will reach 120 million Americans by year's end.

Several analysts described the new Android-based phone, with its 1-GHz Snapdragon processor and HD video-capable camera, as a device that Sprint needed in order to push its WiMax technology offering ahead. The 4.3-in. screen, with 480-by-800 resolution, will show movies and other videos with the help of a small kickstand that allows a user to set the phone on a table in a position for easy viewing.

"Clearly, hot devices move markets," said Gene Signorini, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. In general, however, he said that WiMax is a "big bet" for Sprint. "It's appropriate they are in Vegas for the EVO announcement," Signorini noted. "They are going all-in for 4G."

HTC EVO 4G smartphone
The HTC EVO 4G smartphone from Sprint.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, said he isn't sure the EVO will make a large difference in how many users adopt WiMax, especially since it will depend on whether they have WiMax service nearby. The phone will also work in 3G networks, Sprint said.

At least one analyst firm, Infonetics, has forecast that by 2014, WiMax will be used by only 3% of the market for high-speed wireless networks, but Sprint seems to be ignoring that prediction.

Gold said that he expects WiMax to gain greater market share by 2014 but that the competing LTE service will be adopted by the majority of U.S. users by 2015.

Sprint named seven new cities, including Miami and Los Angeles, that will be added to its growing list of WiMax-capable cities.

One feature that Sprint touted with the EVO is its ability to serve as a Wi-Fi hot spot, connecting to WiMax and then to as many as eight other devices. Taking a swipe at the iPhone 3G S, Sprint also showed how a video on an iPhone could be connected wirelessly to the EVO and shown in higher resolution than what's available on the iPhone.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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