Fourth-generation (4G) wireless broadband is still in its infancy, and the nation's cellular carriers are working out the kinks of their respective 4G implementations. AT&T and Verizon Wireless plan to implement Long Term Evolution (LTE) service either late this year or early into the next. And Sprint, in conjuction with Clearwire, a small carrier it has a controlling interest in, is already using WiMax for its 4G service in a few dozen U.S. markets.
Which 4G service is best? The LTE vs. WiMax debate is ongoing, and it appears that Clearwire isn't 100-percent sold on its initial choice. The company plans to test LTE service in Phoenix starting later this year, an indication that it and Sprint may migrate to LTE at some point in the future.
That's no cause for concern…well, unless you're an early adopter who's already bought an HTC EVO 4G, the nation's first 4G phone. And with other 4G/WiMax phones, including the much-anticipated Samsung Epic 4G, slated to arrive soon, is Sprint sending its customers a somewhat subtle message? (Hint: We're not committed to WiMax, so it's smarter to wait for LTE.)
No so, says Sprint. "As the industry’s wireless 4G pioneer, Sprint is fully committed to WiMax deployment, which allows us to deliver 4G services first and now - to customers in many markets today. This is the same position Clearwire has stated publicly as well," wrote Sprint spokesman Mark Elliot in an e-mail to PCWorld.
Rather, Clearwire's LTE tests are part of a plan to "stay abreast of emerging 4G technologies and evaluate their future potential," Elliott added.
IDC mobile phone analyst Ramon Llamas agrees that HTC EVO 4G owners need not panic: WiMax isn't getting the boot anytime soon.
"There's no indication--at least not right now--from Clearwire or Sprint that LTE is the way to go, especially with how bullish Sprint and Clear are regarding WiMax," he says.
Sprint 4G is currently available in more than 45 U.S. markets covering about 51 million people. The carrier plans to expand the service to 120 million people by the end of the year.
"If you have an EVO 4G, don't be concerned," Llamas adds. "If you're lining up to get the next 4G device coming out on the Sprint network, you don't need to be concerned either."
In other words, given the amount of money and time that Sprint and Clearwire have invested in WiMax, it's unlikely that they'd pull the plug on it so soon.
"WiMax still has to launch everywhere, and there are billions of dollars in investment in that," Llamas says. "For them to change course in the near future, or the next year or so, that would be a cause for concern."