4G: Here It Comes, Ready or Not -- Part II: Page 3

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Shen consistently refers to services "like Skype" when talking about VoIP over Xohm, and points out that the quality of service required and delivered on the Sprint CDMA network is much higher than subscribers using Skype over Xohm would expect or, he implies, experience. But this ignores the fact that there are other more mainstream VoIP providers that are at least perceived to offer better quality of service than Skype—Vonage, for example. And they currently work quite well over wireline broadband connections with similar bandwidth to Xohm.

It's true that WiMAX powered mobile handsets aren't available yet, so users would have to use soft phones on laptops. But dual-mode handsets with, as Shen says, perhaps wishfully, "CDMA for voice and WiMAX for data," will be available early in 2009.

Why wouldn't subscribers use such devices to make VoIP calls over Xohm rather than more expensive cellular calls? And if they do, wouldn't that disastrously cannibalize revenue from Sprint's core business?

Shen also says, "We reserve the right to introduce a hybrid of mobile voice services to our customers and have a better integration with the devices and the network and the applications. So we always want to be competing in these areas and make sure customers have a choice of premium services."

Huh? What this means, we think, is that in the short and possibly medium terms, Sprint will offer CDMA/Xohm bundles. That's almost a given. The two networks, for the foreseeable future, will be "complementary," Shen insists, albeit with "a little bit of overlap."

But ultimately, if Sprint expects to transition into a true 4G world, it will have to deliver voice over some IP network, as IP voice. Because that is one of the objectives of 4G—to move to much more efficient flat IP network architectures, and VoIP for mobile voice.

Where does all this leave us?

As a 4G mobile service, Xohm lacks essential elements. And we'll have to wait for the other foot to drop on how voice and data will mingle in the Sprint world. For now, Xohm is simply a glorified city-wide hotzone, having more in common with Wi-Fi networks than cellular.

Still, assuming Sprint can roll it out at the pace it claims it will and keep prices as low as they are now - big assumptions - Xohm could be a serious challenge for other carriers hoping to evolve in an orderly fashion to LTE-based 4G networks.

Even if it remains purely a data network, and even if it ultimately can't support large-scale ad hoc use of VoIP by subscribers - entirely possible - it may still be able to grab market share from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile by offering a better mobile data solution than 3G.

That in itself is an opportunity for enterprise users—as we'll see next time when we look at the larger question of how companies can and will use 4G.

This article was first published on SmartPhoneToday.com.

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Tags: services, wireless, Intel, voice, Wimax

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