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The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Sprint Nextel Corp. is aiming to make video calls a selling point of the new, faster data network that it’s spending billions with co-investors to build.

Even as the company made its announcement, wireless industry executives stepped up calls on the federal government to make more spectrum available in order to meet growing customer demand.

Sprint announced Tuesday that this summer, it is launching the first phone that will be able to use the new Clear wireless broadband network. Though it is live in 27 cities and offers faster data speeds for laptops than current cellular broadband networks, Clear doesn’t yet work with phones.

(The Clear network is available in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte metro areas, having launched in November. )

To capitalize on the network, Sprint will be releasing a large, iPhone-style smart phone called the Evo 4G, made by HTC Corp. of Taiwan. The phone, showed off by CEO Dan Hesse at the show in Las Vegas on Tuesday, will have two cameras: a high-resolution one on the back and a low-resolution one on the front, on the same side as the screen. That’s a convenient setup for video calls.

Video calls are possible — just barely — on current cellular networks, but carriers discourage them or charge extra for them because they consume a lot of wireless capacity. In addition, there aren’t many phones with front-facing cameras, making it difficult to talk and capture video simultaneously.

The Clear network offers speeds similar to home broadband, making it better at handling streaming video. It’s based on a technology known as WiMax, and it’s referred to as fourth-generation, or 4G, because it’s faster than the current, third-generation cellular networks.

For the moment, Clear is ahead of the competition on wireless data speeds. However, because the network hasn’t been accessible from phones and has limited coverage, it hasn’t stopped Sprint from losing subscribers. And even if phones could now access Clear, common tasks such as e-mail and Web browsing wouldn’t run much faster than on a 3G phone. That’s why Sprint is promoting it as a medium for video calling.

"We really wanted people to be able to experience what 4G can do for them," said David Owens, Sprint’s director of product marketing.

Sprint doesn’t have a video chat application for the Evo yet, but will help developers create such software, Owens said.

The phone will have a 4.3-inch touch screen, 30 percent larger than the iPhone’s screen, and run Google Inc.’s Android software. Sprint didn’t say what it would cost or exactly when it would be available. Nor did the company say what it would charge for service, or if there would be an extra charge for 4G access.

Laptops will be able to connect to the Evo via Wi-Fi to gain access to the WiMax network, making the phone a "portable hotspot." Owens wouldn’t say if Sprint would charge extra for that feature. Verizon Wireless charges $40 per month for that feature on the Palm Pre Plus, which has 3G access.

The Clear network is run by Clearwire Corp., of which Sprint owns a slim majority. The other investors include cable TV companies, Intel Corp. and Google. Covered cities include Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta. Clearwire, which is based in Kirkland, Wash., plans to expand this year to cover New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Houston and Washington, D.C., among other cities.

Owens said Sprint doesn’t plan to limit sales of the Evo phone to markets with Clear coverage, because it will work on Sprint’s regular 3G network as well.

Exec speaks out on network demand

Elsewhere at the show, wireless executives said they support a proposal by federal regulators to find more wireless spectrum for mobile broadband services, but say the industry needs to do more to help networks keep up with the demand for wireless data over the next four years.

Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T Inc., said that mobile broadband stands to be this decade’s engine for driving the economy. "It’s going to drive innovation, capital investment and is driving job creation," Stephenson said. "As a country, we can’t afford to mess this up at this stage."

Stephenson spoke during a keynote at the CTIA event.

Wireless data traffic in the U.S. jumped 30 times in the last three years — 50 times for AT&T, Stephenson said.

The carrier has struggled with the network load caused by iPhone users and is increasing its network investments by billions this year to cope.

Ralph de la Vega, chairman of CTIA and the head of AT&T’s consumer business, said the volume of data transferred over mobile lines is expected to keep growing and reach 40 times today’s level by 2014.

Vega said in addition to added spectrum, phones need to be better at offloading traffic to wireless hotspots, and software needs to use the airwaves more efficiently.

"Much the same way that car makers are trying to be more fuel efficient, we need to take that same efficient approach on how we use the spectrum," Vega said. "This should be a national imperative for all of us in the wireless ecosystem."

The Federal Communications Commission proposed last month to take airwaves now assigned to television broadcasters and others and sell them to wireless carriers. The plan — part of federal plans to bring affordable high-speed Internet connections to all Americans — calls for freeing 500 megahertz of wireless spectrum over the next decade, roughly doubling what the wireless industry has available.

The increase in data traffic is due to the popularity of "smart" phones like Apple Inc.’s iPhone. J.K. Shin, president of Samsung Electronics Co.’s cell phone division, said smart phones that use mobile broadband will make up one-quarter of all handsets sold in the United States by 2013.