Sprint's long, rocky WiMax journey will end next Nov. 6

The system, once on the cutting edge, gave way to LTE

Sprint's WiMax network, launched in 2008 as the first commercial 4G system in the U.S., will finally shut down in November 2015.

The country's third-largest carrier confirmed Tuesday that it will end its WiMax service on Nov. 6, 2015. It had disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing last year that WiMax would shut down by the end of 2015.

Sprint deployed what was then a newly emerging technology in 2008, attempting to leapfrog its competitors with a mobile data network that would be faster than its own 3G CDMA system and those operated by the other big national carriers. WiMax launched first in Baltimore in September 2008 with advertised download speeds of 2Mbps (bits per second) to 4Mbps.

The network ultimately was built and operated by Clearwire, another early WiMax adherent that owned spectrum licenses in the same band as Sprint, around 2.5GHz. Sprint bought its WiMax capacity wholesale from Clearwire before selling it to its 4G subscribers. The two carriers had a tumultuous relationship until Sprint acquired Clearwire as part of its takeover by Softbank in 2013.

WiMax predated LTE and may have helped to spur on the development of that standard, which became the 4G system for carriers that had embraced the GSM family of technologies. But as early as 2010, both Sprint and Clearwire were signaling that they would give in to LTE's broader global backing and follow what was already expected to be the more high-volume technology.

The November date was first reported by AndroidCentral, based on a leaked newsletter that discussed a letter to be sent a year in advance to all corporate WiMax customers. The newsletter also said other WiMax customers would be informed six months in advance and that there would be comparable devices at low or no cost to replace WiMax equipment. Sprint had laid out the possibility of free LTE replacement phones in its terms of service last year.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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