Motorola says WiMax will be big — with or without Sprint

Xohm is somewhat behind on its rollout schedule, but the show must go on

Financial backing for Sprint Nextel Corp.'s high-speed wireless WiMax Xohm service may still be questionable, but Motorola Corp. still sees a strong WiMax market with or without Sprint in the mix.

"WiMax will happen with or without the backing of Sprint," said Daniel Moloney, president of home and networks mobility for Motorola, the division that oversees WiMax products, in an interview on Wednesday. "There's a huge global market for this technology."

Motorola makes products that Sprint is deploying in its Xohm trials and rollout, and is already providing WiMax gear for rollouts in other countries.

Moloney said he is aware of Sprint's efforts to attract cable companies to invest $1.5 billion or more in the Xohm venture, which could cost $5 billion all told. But Moloney said he was not privy to details of what is happening with those discussions, or why some sort of deal was not reached by Monday, a deadline that Sprint imposed on the cable companies involved.

For its part, Sprint won't comment on plans to attract investors, although a source close to the discussions told Computerworld that Sprint had pushed the Monday deadline. Barry West, president of the Xohm division, on Tuesday said he was still optimistic for Xohm service, but he said in an interview with IDG News Service on Wednesday that Xohm will slightly miss a target of providing commercial availability in April. He didn't specify what the new target date will be.

West said the delay was largely due to problems setting up Internet links behind the WiMax portions of the network. Trials are under way in Chicago and Washington.

Moloney agreed with many financial analysts who have said it is logical for cable companies to want to invest in WiMax, since doing so gives the cable providers an extension of wireless services to their customers already getting cable services. He said there is already a trend toward cable companies branching into the telecommunications realm as well, combining wired and wireless networks. He pointed, by way of example, to such moves by Telefonica in Madrid and Singtel in Singapore. "There is interest in blending together technologies," he said.

Motorola is interested in producing technologies for both WiMax and LTE (Long Term Evolution), which is expected to be a big WiMax competitor down the road. LTE is backed by both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, Moloney said.

Moloney said Sprint would itself have likely backed LTE but could move faster with WiMax, since the latter service could come to market faster and because Sprint already owned the 2.5-GHz spectrum that will carry the WiMax signal. "They could deploy today or wait two to three years for LTE," he said.

While Motorola is backing both WiMax and LTE, Moloney said he wanted investors and others to know that WiMax is going to be a strong network technology especially in developing countries such as Pakistan, where one rollout is under way. "I feel good about where WiMax is headed," Moloney said.

The fate of Sprint's Xohm seemed to be on the minds of many other executives at CTIA, including officials at AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, was charitable toward Sprint when asked about the fate of Xohm. But he asserted that AT&T will continue to add customers as it develops its networks toward LTE. "WiMax is not a threat," de la Vega told reporters and analysts at a luncheon.

AT&T officials project that over the next several years, the company's LTE network will be able to achieve 28Mbit/sec. speeds — many times the current rates.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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