In a welcome development for backers of WiMax, US operator Sprint said that it plans to deploy its WiMax services to 10 major US cities in 2009, with at least five additional major markets due to get services in 2010.

WiMax has taken a few knocks of late. Nokia decided to stop making its only WiMax-enabled handset, Alcatel-Lucent opted to cut its investment in WiMax to reduce costs, and Infonetics Research predicted the market for WiMax would decline in 2009.

But Sprint said that for 2009, it plans to deploy services in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle. In 2010 the company expects to launch WiMax services in Boston, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC.

Currently, Sprint's WiMax services are only available commercially in Baltimore, where Sprint kicked off its nationwide WiMax deployment last September. Comcast, one of Sprint's partners in the Clearwire WiMax coalition, recently announced that it planned to start reselling WiMax services from Clearwire sometime this year.

Sprint's WiMax division - which is now calling itself Sprint 4G - says it plans to release several new WiMax devices in 2009 and 2010, such as a single-mode WiMax data card, WiMax-embedded laptops and a small-office WiMax broadband modem. Sprint's WiMax services are currently the fastest mobile broadband services on the market, offering peak downlink speeds of 12Mbps and average downlink speeds between 2Mbps and 4Mbps.

By rolling out its WiMax services in major cities, Sprint is hoping to stay ahead of the curve of rival carriers AT&T and Verizon, which each plan to launch their own 4G mobile data services based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) in roughly two years' time.

LTE is a modulation technique that is the latest variation of Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology and is seen as the natural progression of High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA), the GSM technology that is currently used by carriers such as AT&T to deliver 3G mobile data services.