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Forecast: CE Products On Wireless Path

Las Vegas — Cellular and other wireless technologies will eventually be embedded in a wide range of consumer electronics products and other consumer goods in much the same way that Wi-Fi is today, and that time is only a few years away, wireless marketers said here on the eve of the CTIA Wireless show.

Speaking yesterday before an audience of analysts and reporters, Sprint Nextel executives outlined plans for a late 2008-early 2009 commercial launch of a fourth-generation (4G) wireless service that would offer speedier data and multimedia services than its planned 3G CDMA 1x EV-DO Rev. A network. The carrier, however, also foresees 4G chips embedded in devices, including CE products and cars, “in unique ways,” said senior product development VP Oliver Valente. He pointed to digital cameras as an example and said consumers would buy such devices “in a different way.”

Sprint Nextel COO Len Lauer also sees his 4G technology used in telematics applications and “embedded almost like Wi-Fi” in a cost-effective way in many types of devices because of the economies of scale that the carrier’s widespread deployment will allow.

In the second quarter, Sprint will select among several technologies, including mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.11), to deploy in the 100MHz of 2.5GHz spectrum that it owns. In its fully evolved form, Mobile WiMAX would allow for theoretical peak downloads of 70Mbps and average throughputs of 20Mbps per user at highway speeds. “We’ll have mobility, but we could start portable and then go high-speed mobile with handoffs,” Valente added.

Sprint will be 1 ½-2 years ahead of competitors Cingular, Verizon and T-Mobile in offering 4G service, Lauer said, because those carriers must bid in auctions for Advanced Wireless Services {AWS) spectrum later this year, pay billions of dollars for the spectrum, and then clear incumbents off the spectrum by 2009, paving the way for a service launch in 2010. Because of the amount of AWS spectrum to be auctioned, the other carriers will likely get no more than 22MHz of nationwide spectrum each, limiting the speeds of the services they will offer, he added.