Sprint Details Mobile WiMAX Plans

We just sat in on the Sprint’s conference call, which brought together Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee, Motorola’s Ed Zander, Intel’s Sean Maloney and Samsung’s KiTae Lee. Here are the details.

Sprint confirmed it has chosen mobile WiMAX as the technology for its 4G network and says it will spend between $2.5 billion and $3 billion on capital expenses by 2008. The company says it is working with Intel, Samsung and Motorola, though didn’t specify how much additional money each of those companies is investing in the plan.

Sprint executives said the network will offer between 2 to 4 Mbps, and will be launched in the Q4 2007, with a nationwide rollout in 2008. With that much bandwidth available, Sprint executives referred to a network that will be built to run user-generated content, and enabling subscribers to access “YouTube and MySpace on the fly.”

Sprint detailed some of the reasons for its mobile WiMAX choice, and said the company can create a “mobile WiMAX ecosystem” with 4 times the performance and a tenth of the cost of a technology like EVDO. In a call after the conference Sprint phrased the benefits as providing ten times the combined performance and cost saving over other available networks, but wouldn’t clarify more on this somewhat confusing metric.

All of the cheering on the call was of course at the expense of Qualcomm, which Sprint did not choose for the 4G network, and which builds a business off of owning proprietary IP standards and a closed model. Sprint said Qualcomm’s tech was not chosen for technical differences, among a variety of reasons, and emphasized its interest in mobile WiMAX as a global standard with a business model for building an ecosystem.

No surprise that Intel’s Maloney emphasized these thoughts in the conference, as did Samsung’s Principal for wireless broadband North America, Tom Jasny in a call after the conference. Jasny put it as “an open standard contributes to large adoption, helps the fundamental economics and encourages countries to make the standards available.” Qualcomm’s stock fell $2.71 after the call to $33.66.

While Sprint’s partners didn’t detail their commitments too much, Sprint VP of Broadband Bin Shen said to us after the conference that a major portion of the deal with be an agreement on marketing — which Intel learned from WiFi can be pretty expensive — as well as network deployment and operational support. Samsung Jasny said its partnership could include chips, network infrastructure, and consumer electronics, including handsets, computer cards among other devices.

Sprint’s Shen said there would be announcements with major partners in the coming months. We’re wondering how Clearwire will fit in? Investors weren’t too confident in the announcement and Sprint Nextel’s stock fell almost 2%.