Sprint Nextel to launch WiMax in September

Service to start in Baltimore, with Washington, Chicago area added later this year

LAS VEGAS -- The WiMax service spearheaded by Sprint Nextel Corp. will launch commercially in Baltimore in September, Sprint President and CEO Dan Hesse said today.

The service, delayed several times and now coming under the flag of a joint venture with WiMax service provider Clearwire Corp., will also go commercial in Washington and Chicago later this year, Hesse said in a keynote address at the NXTcomm trade show.

Chicago and the Washington-Baltimore area have been Sprint's test markets for WiMax, a metropolitan-area wireless data service that Sprint estimates will deliver 2Mbit/sec. to 4Mbit/sec. to each user. The struggling carrier had earlier forecast a commercial launch in the first half of this year but recently has been more vague about its timing.

Also today, Hesse said the Samsung Instinct handset, an iPhone-like device he unveiled at the CTIA Wireless show in April, will hit the market on Friday. It will be available first to Sprint's current customers, Hesse said, to demonstrate that "Sprint, from now on, will place our current customers first." The company has been plagued by a reputation for poor customer service and has been losing subscribers.

Hesse emphasized that the WiMax service will be an open service on which, he said, customers will be able to use any safe application or platform. However, some network control and management by the carrier is necessary, he said, calling regulation of how carriers control their networks a bad idea.

There was some good news about wired broadband, too. Verizon Communications next week will expand a 50Mbit/sec. broadband offering to all customers of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service, said Denny Strigl, Verizon's president and CEO.

The service, which provides 50Mbit/sec. downstream and 20Mbit/sec. upstream, has been offered only in selected markets but will now become available throughout the FiOS coverage area, which will pass 12 million U.S. homes by the end of this year, Strigl said.

At the same time, the company's basic FiOS service will increase to 10Mbit/sec. downstream and 2Mbit/sec. upstream, doubling its speed without a price increase.

FiOS now has 1.2 million subscribers, Strigl said.

Strigl countered arguments that the U.S. lags other countries in broadband.

"We have more broadband connections than anyone else, at more than 100 million and counting," Strigl said. "More than half of all households in this country have some form of broadband service."

A study that ranked the U.S. 15th out of 30 countries in broadband ignored wireless broadband services as well as the geographic differences between the U.S. and other countries. Massachusetts and New Jersey have the same population density as South Korea or Japan and about the same broadband penetration, he said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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