The Most Important Battle You Aren't Watching

Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) has shifted into Overdrive.

That's the name of the company's newest product, a combination router that delivers 3G and 4G data speeds depending on where you use it. The goal? Get consumers excited about high-speed WiMAX, even if its partner for WiMAX deployment -- Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) -- has yet to go nationwide with its network.

For those unfamiliar, WiMAX is a high-speed wireless broadband technology that delivers data over long distances. Sprint and Clearwire are its primary backers, but Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) , and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) have also invested in WiMAX.

Whether they'll see a return depends largely on how fast Sprint and Clearwire act in rolling out WiMAX across the land. AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) are making big investments in a WiMAX competitor called Long Term Evolution, or LTE. AT&T has said it is targeting 2011 for its LTE rollout. Verizon, meanwhile, aims to have its own 4G network covering up to 30 cities in place before the end of the year.

Importantly, Overdrive won't supply WiMAX to consumers who live in areas where Clearwire isn't. Still, the reviewers at TechCrunch say the device has its advantages:

In terms of design and usability, the Overdrive is excellent. It is a small, compact device with OLED screen and removable battery that holds a charge for about four hours of heavy use. Up to five users can access it at once and the security information appears right on the screen, allowing folks to glance over instead of asking you to give them the device to read the code off the back or, worse, having to look it up.

Overdrive comes at an important time, and is appropriately named. Sprint lost more than 800,000 post-paid customers in its third quarter. Either the carrier gets consumers excited about WiMAX now, and then matches Verizon's 2010 network plans, or this race ends badly.

Intel and Sprint Nextel are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Intel is also a Motley Fool Options Buy Calls recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Have you seen an old pair of driving gloves? The Fool's disclosure policy lost its pair yesterday.


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