Sprint exec optimistic about WiMax, but sees need for more markets

Android media player for WiMax is also coming

CHICAGO -- As the No. 2 executive at Xohm, Atish Gude was brimming with excitement.

Gude, Sprint Nextel Corp.'s senior vice president of business operations, knows he is riding the wave of having successfully launched the high-speed WiMax wireless service in Baltimore on Monday, with Chicago and Washington to come soon.

"It took a long time coming to this point," Gude told a small gathering of reporters and analysts at a demonstration of WiMax technologies yesterday on the eve of the WiMax World conference. "Baltimore is the first of many markets."

Gude was confident enough to tell a joke to the crowd, even as some analysts quickly noted that Xohm is still far from proving itself. The past year was filled with uncertainty about Xohm, although a joint venture with Clearwire Inc. and an infusion of cash from Google Inc. and others have helped.

In a brief interview with Computerworld later, Gude admitted that the large-scale rollout is what matters.

"We know we have a long way to go," he said. "But still we said we'd launch with no contracts [for customers], and there are no contracts. We said it would be open, and it's open. We have attractive price points. We said we'd set the speeds at realistic levels, from 2 to 4 megabits [per second] and we have that."

Analysts give Xohm credit for all of those things, too, but said they still need to see more from Xohm.

Also at the demonstration, Sprint showed Samsung Express air cards running inside Dell laptops over a Xohm WiMax network that is being completed in Chicago. Gude and Motorola Corp. officials said there are 600 WiMax access ports to serve Chicago, more than what are in use in Baltimore. Motorola is building the infrastructure in Chicago.

Using an online meter, the air card demonstration showed one laptop with a downlink speed of 4.1Mbit/sec., with 750Kbit/sec. upstream, numbers that were imitated several times. The card costs $59.99 and can be used with a one-day pass without a contract for $10, Gude noted. Sprint is also offering a $30 monthly service, which Gude said was available for the next six months, and will increase to $45 a month after that time.

Gude said with Baltimore and soon a few more markets live with WiMax, it's likely that many consumers and small business owners would use the WiMax air card and several other innovations like it. For WiMax to grow to interest larger businesses, the network needs to expand so that a worker can travel from city to city and expect to have connections, he said. As a result, many of the early end-user innovations will focus on consumers and home-based users, he said.

There will also be an Android open platform operating system running on a device that works with WiMax, but it most likely will not be a standard wireless phone but rather a full functioning media player, Gude said. A media player is the kind of device that the market will respond to in the early rollout of the WiMax network, he added.

Next to the Xohm demonstration, which was held at an exhibit called the Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry, Motorola showed several WiMax applications based on using a WiMax wireless access point on the roof (officially named the WAP 400). Using a new Motorola USB WiMax dongle inserted into a laptop, Motorola was able to connect to the outside antenna to run live video from CNN. In a bedroom, a small access point from Motorola, which will be sold by carriers, was used to run a gaming station.

Motorola was also demonstrating new technology called Media Mobility, which will be available soon and will allow service providers to send different video streams to different devices. For example, a television program that would appear on a wall display in a home, the video would appear normally, but when it appeared on an ultramobile PC, advertising could be inserted with the video stream. In that case, the carrier would use a server to distinguish the end-user device.

The purpose of the application is to provide a means for carriers to generate revenue with WiMax networks, a Motorola official said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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