Xohm WiMax launches in Baltimore

Average downlink speed is between 2Mbit/sec. and 4Mbit/sec., Sprint says

Sprint Nextel Corp. officially launched Xohm Wimax wireless service in Baltimore today, meeting a commitment to start the service by the end of September and making Baltimore the first major U.S. city with such service.

"The service went live at 12:01 a.m. today," said John Polivka, a Sprint spokesman. That means Baltimore customers who had previously registered online for the service were activated immediately. Polivka did not know how many early subscribers had signed up, however.

Average downlink speeds are expected to be in the range of 2Mbit/sec. to 4Mbit/sec., Sprint said in a statement. Service plans include a $10 one-day pass, a $25-per-month home Internet service and $30 monthly on-the-go service. The data-centric Xohm service will also offer a $50-per-month plan to cover two different WiMax-capable devices.

Users in Baltimore can begin accessing the network using Xohm-branded Samsung Express laptop air cards that cost $59.99 or a ZyXel modem that goes for $79.99, Sprint said. Additional devices are expected to be able to access the service later this year, including an Intel Centrino 2 WiMax laptop, a Nokia N810 phone and a ZTE USB modem, Sprint said.

WiMax devices can be purchased like any other computer or consumer electronics device, Sprint said, and various equipment makers -- including Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Google, ZTE and ZyXel -- have announced products that will work over the network. Intel, which has touted mobile Internet devices that are expected to be WiMax-capable, is planning to showcase new devices using the Baltimore network next week, Polivka said.

Users will have free access to a Web site called MyXohm that offers local entertainment information, security services and hosted online storage. After users set their preferences, they will get content and applications pushed to them through a location-aware portal by way of widgets, Sprint said.

The launch, two years after Sprint chose 802.16e as its standard for broadband wireless technologies, will be followed by launches in other cities in the months ahead, Sprint has said. Those cities include Washington and Chicago, where Sprint expects to begin service in the fourth quarter, and Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas-Fort Worth, where service is slated to start early next year.

Sprint is working to combine its Xohm business with Clearwire Corp. by the end of the year, and progress on those efforts is moving ahead as expected, Polivka added.

The new Clearwire, as it is now called, is the result of a proposed $14.5 billion joint venture between Sprint and Clearwire. The deal attracted more than $3 billion in investments from Intel, Google, Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Sprint's main contribution to the venture will be its holdings of 2.5-GHz spectrum, made possible in the Sprint-Nextel merger.

The main purpose of next week's demonstration, Polivka said, is to show off the "entire ecosystem" involving the network and a variety of end-user devices. The company also plans to detail progress on the joint venture and the rollout to other cities.

Because the joint venture between Sprint and Clearwire largely depends on a successful network rollout, analysts reacted to today's launch with cautious optimism. "This is the first market they are rolling out," said Jeffrey Kagan, an independent analyst based in Atlanta. "It will be a while before we can tell whether this will be a success, but this looks good so far."

If the launch and future expansion are successful, "it could be a big booster for [Sprint], which has struggled over the last few years," he said.

Initially, WiMax is expected to offer faster wireless speeds than most users get from other carriers. However, the GSM Association, which represents 750 carriers globally that mostly prefer an alternative technology called Long Term Evolution (LTE), said that AT&T Inc. already offers 7Mbit/sec. theoretical throughput to users on the High Speed Packet Access networks now being built in the U.S. to support devices such as the iPhone. The GSMA admits that theoretical throughput is higher than average throughput.

T-Mobile USA is building an HSPA network in the U.S. to support the new Android-based G1 phone, which was announced last week.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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