Many were counting WiMAX out, but it appears that it has one last chance with the Sprint experiment.
Through Clearwire, an affiliated company in which Sprint owns a 51 percent stake, Sprint is now offering the faster data service on laptops in Baltimore, Portland, Ore., and other cities for a total population of eight million people.
By the end of the year, the service will be in 25 markets, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas. A year after that, it hopes to reach about a third of the country’s population, including New York and San Francisco.
Verizon Wireless will not start to unveil its 4G network until the middle of next year. And AT&T will come out with its upgrade a year later, although its 3G technology can be upgraded to offer much faster speeds than the system used by Sprint and Verizon.
But Sprint’s 4G push comes with huge technical and financial risks. The company is using a technology called WiMax, which was initially developed by Intel to offer wireless service over large distances to computers in homes and offices, not to mobile phones.
The rest of the wireless industry has settled on a global standard called L.T.E. (for Long Term Evolution). While it is still in development, some experts say L.T.E. will be able to handle more traffic than WiMax, and the L.T.E. systems planned by AT&T and Verizon would use radio frequencies that penetrate buildings better than those used by Clearwire.