Sprint pegs rollout of WiMax in Baltimore-Washington for later this year

Tests with Samsung shows the service to be commercially ready

Sprint Nextel Corp. and Samsung Electronics Corp. today declared high-speed wireless WiMax technology ready for commercial service, and Sprint said it plans on launching commercial WiMax in Washington and Baltimore "later this year."

Washington and Baltimore have joined Chicago in a "soft rollout" of the technology in recent months, in which Sprint workers use and test the technology, a Sprint spokesman said last week. Despite today's announcement about Washington and Baltimore, no commercial rollout projection for Chicago was mentioned, however. When asked about Chicago, a Sprint spokesman said "there will be further progress to report at another time."

The two companies said testing of overall performance, including successful wireless handoffs between cell towers without delay, had met Sprint's "rigorous commercial acceptance criteria." Testing was conducted in laboratories, as well as in the Baltimore-Washington area, the companies said.

Samsung has been working with Sprint to build and test the mobile broadband WiMax service, now branded Xohm, since June 2007. There were lab tests, followed by field tests in October and then interoperability tests with "multiple" other device vendors in April. Those devices included a WiMax-capable laptop by Nokia Corp., a Samsung WiMax express card for laptops and a Zyxel WiMax modem, a spokesman said. Nokia is building WiMax-capable phones and other devices, and Intel Corp. has been developing chip sets for use in laptops and ultramobile PCs. Samsung also introduced several WiMax devices last month, including the WiMax express card for laptops and an Ultra Premium Mobile PC with embedded WiMax.

In a statement, Sprint's Xohm division President Barry West said the WiMax ecosystem being built with Samsung and other partners proves that the collaboration "can deliver this new technology to the marketplace well ahead of any feasible alternative."

Last week, West announced plans to create a $14.5 billion joint venture with Clearwire Inc. to provide a national WiMax network. He and other Sprint executives said that 120 million to 140 million people would have WiMax access by the end of 2010, although they admitted it was an aggressive prediction. By comparison, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless are supporting Long Term Evolution for fast wireless connections they believe could reach a mass market in 2011 to 2012.

West and other Sprint executives were expected to announce the joint venture in early April and give an update on a commercial rollout at that time. But at CTIA in early April, West said there had been problems with providing backhaul links to new WiMax cell sites, although few details were provided.

Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said it was "somewhat strange" that Chicago was not mentioned in today's announcement, although he knew of no particular problems with the Chicago soft launch, which is based on equipment by Motorola Inc.

For Sprint to say it will announce commercial availability for later this year is somewhat later than midyear, which Redman said was Sprint's original timetable. But he said delays of a national network are commonplace. Sprint said it has not announced an official timetable for rolling out WiMax.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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