Before LTE became widespread in the United States, Sprint launched its own high-speed data network using the competing WiMAX protocol. It wasn’t as fast as LTE, but that didn’t stop the company from calling it 4G.

Sprint isn’t the only name in the WiMAX game… but Clearwire, FreedomPop, and most other companies that offer WiMAX service in the US are actually using Sprint’s network.

And that network will shut down in the beginning of November, 2015.

wimax

A recent document obtained by Android Central suggested Sprint would be pulling the plug on its WiMAX network on November 6th. Now Fierce Wireless reports a Spring spokesperson confirms that the network will shut down on or around that date.

If you have a Sprint phone that supports 3G and WiMAX you’ll still be able to use it after that time, but it’ll only work on Sprint’s 3G network. But if you’ve got one of those phones, odds are that it’s an older device and you qualify for an upgrade to a 4G LTE capable model anyway.

On the other hand if you’ve got a hotspot or other device from FreedomPop, Karma, or another mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that’s using Sprint’s network, you’ll need to get a different device by the time the WiMAX dries up in November or lose your mobile access altogether.

FreedomPop is already starting to add LTE phones and hotspots to its lineup, but most of the products the company offers are WiMAX devices. Expect that to change in the coming year.

I’ve been using a Clearwire USB dongle for internet access during my annual trip to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show in January. I’ve been thinking about picking up something different for my next trip in January, 2015 — and this time I’ll probably opt for an LTE device.

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5 replies on “Goodnight WiMAX: Sprint to shut down its first 4G network Nov 6th, 2015”

  1. I guess the days are numbered for my Virgin Mobile LG Optimus F3 which I believe uses Sprint ‘4G’ WiMAX. I must say, the speed tests I’ve run on it when in ‘4G’ mode have not been all that impressive. Perhaps it will fallback to ‘3G’ only (which it already seems to run on most of the time) when the shutdown occurs.

    1. WiMax promised speeds between 6 and 10 megabits/sec (mbps) when it was introduced. At that time, LTE was still in its infancy. WiMax delivered, but in a very limited geographic area, eventually reaching perhaps 25% of the US.

      An unscientific survey of YouTube postings of WiMax Speedtests showed it to be between 2 and 10 mbps. Spriint’s single band LTE had speeds between 2 and 28 mbps. Sprint’s tri-band LTE (marked as Spark) has speeds between 10 mbps and 74 mbps, and theoretical maximum speeds of 1 gigabit/sec. CDMA EVDO (Sprint 3G) is anywhere from 250 kbps to 2 mbps. Hopefully, Sprint will build out its Spark network before hell freezes over… Otherwise, Spark will be WiMax all over again,Sprint’s LTE thenew CDMA EVDO. Fortunately, Sprint’s new owner Softbank has the deep pockets to finance Spark’s buildout (owning a part of IPO Alibaba help too).

      Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile typically get from 30 to 40 mbps now on their LTE, and they
      are all improving their networks. Verizon’s LTE effort similar to Spark is marketed as XLTE.

      Unfortunately, WiMax promised to be a disruptive force, like the way free or cheap public WiFi has crimped carriers’ plans. Taking a page from FON, Comcast is allocating excess bandwidth on its customers’ cable modem Internet as free WiFi to both non-Comcast customers (limited to 2 sessions/month) and Comcast customers. Comcast has some 24 million customers.

      Hence, mobile operators didn’t embrace WiMax, and Sprint and Clearwire were nearly bankrupted (Sprint owned part of Clearwire, this year Sprint bought all of Clearwire). A nationwide network costs $5 billion and up to build, and maybe $1 billion a year to maintain. WiMax sucked billions in investment from Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner, besides Sprint and Clearwire. Too bad Softbank wasn’t around then.

  2. Is this what “I feel old” feels like… WiMax was supposed to be so awesome – once upon a time, back in the day. Remember, “Wi-fi speeds anywhere and everywhere in town”? I have a friend who now teaches a history seminar with a lecture called “the future of the past”. He’ll have to amend his syllabus to now include “WiMax” (although maybe if they added a couple of x’s and called it WiMaxxx, it would spur some new interest, maybe, or maybe not)……

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