A WiMAX iPhone? Be Still My Beating Heart!

UPDATE, Oct. 4: The Rumors Were Wrong, no WiMAX iPhone. Just something called the iPhone 4S, which you can now also buy from Sprint. My heart is beating again.

If the rumors floating around today prove to be true — that Sprint will have a brief exclusive on the iPhone 5 and that the device will run in part on the WiMAX network run by Clearwire and Sprint — then the original Gang of 4G will finally have the device it’s been missing since the start.

Of course, we said that long ago — that the iPhone was WiMAX’s top competitor. But that was then, this is now. Why would Sprint make such a big gamble on a device that might be long in the tooth?

Simple. Because it’s still an iPhone world, at least when it comes to leading the way. I understand that Android handsets are growing in number and that there might actually be more of them out there than iPhones — but there is no single Android device that comes anywhere close to the installed base of iPhone users. If you compare any Android phone side by side with an iPhone there is still a sort of vague but very real feeling that the iPhone is a better device. I can’t explain it and am not a fanboy (I own a Sprint Samsung Epic 4G as my personal smartphone) but when I tested an iPhone earlier this summer I was struck by how the device just feels right, in your hand and via its interface.

The iPhone rumors, if true, make Sprint’s recent decision to end unlimited data plans for hotspot usage understandable — if all of a sudden Sprint is going to have several million new WiMAX devices to manage it can’t afford to have all those users logged in dawn to dusk, which is kinda what power users with smartphone hotspots have probably been doing with their unlimited contracts. Remember it was over a year ago that Clearwire was telling us that the average user on their network was chewing through 7 GB of data downloaded per month; our guess is, that figure has only gotten bigger. So no, Sprint and Clearwire aren’t about to make an AT&T-style mistake and let users run wild. Sad, but smart and understandable.

But a WiMAX iPhone — Wow. Finally the best phone will get access to what is arguably still the nation’s top 4G network, despite Verizon’s Rule the Air claims. While Verizon may have its 4G LTE network launched in more cities, it’s still not clear how deep Verizon’s coverage stretches in any given market. And the LTE network still seems to have some growing pains while the Clearwire/Sprint WiMAX network seems pretty solid.

And if the announcement is true and indeed there is a WiMAX iPhone I guess the first order of the day will be to revive the corpse of the network many had declared dead and buried. Nothing better than a zombie in time for Halloween, eh?

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