Why Is Sprint Rushing a WiMAX Phone to Market?

Sprint (s s) will launch its fist WiMAX-enabled handset in the first half of this year, several months earlier than expected, according to a Forbes story this morning — an HTC Supersonic, a dual-mode, Android-enabled device that boasts a 4.3-inch LCD display and Wi-Fi connectivity. But does Sprint really need a WiMAX phone yet?

The phone will reportedly switch automatically switch between Sprint’s 3G EV-DO network and the 4G infrastructure it’s building with Clearwire (s clwr), enabling it to take advantage of average download speeds of 3-6 Mbps. But that’s only when it can find a WiMAX network, which covers some 10 percent of the U.S. population and doesn’t yet include cities such as New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Just as importantly, the industry has yet to agree on a handover for voice between 3G and WiMAX which — like LTE — is all-IP. Depending on how Sprint decides to handle voice on its WiMAX network,¬†folks making a call on its WiMAX phone could find themselves unable to use the 4G data services while on a call. Sprint will obviously need to produce phones that leverage WiMAX as it builds out its new footprint and as the industry addresses the technical problems involved in moving to 4G from 3G. But rushing a WiMAX phone to market in the next few months doesn’t seem to make much sense.

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Image courtesy Flickr user Oberazzi.