XOHM WiMax Is Finally On
Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) has slightly jumped the gun on industry expectations and launched its first commercial U.S. WiMax market in Baltimore today. (See Sprint Launches XOHM.)
The third-ranked U.S. cellular operator had been expected by analysts and others to start WiMax services next week, either on October 6 or October 8. By launching in September, however, the operator just squeaked inside its own internal deadline of launching a commercial WiMax network in September this year. (See B'More Will Be First With Sprint WiMax.)
The rumors of an October 8 launch were triggered by a press invitation to an event in Baltimore on that day. Sprint spokesman John Polvika says the operator will use that event to "talk more about devices" and network performance.
The service will initially offer average downlink speeds of between 2 Mbit/s and 4 Mbit/s. Customers that want to use the service from Day 1 will be able to chose either an $80 USB modem from ZyXEL Communications Corp. or Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC)'s $60 PC card for service.
There are no handheld data devices capable of using the WiMax service available at launch. The Nokia 810 WiMax tablet is expected to be the first on the network. "It will be available very soon," promises Polvika.
There are three different service packages available, none of which is tied to long contract terms: a $10 Day pass, a $25 monthly home Internet service, and a $30 monthly on-the-go service. Or, subscribers can pick two WiMax devices for $50 per month.
Sprint is providing the service with 180 mobile WiMax 802.16e base stations dotted around Baltimore. "We're adding more every week," says Polvika.
The operator will follow this up with expected launches for XOHM in Chicago and Washington late this year, although Polvika had no further updates on the status of those markets. "It [Baltimore] ends up being our validation of the business and marketing case. It is a very compact market... We'll learn some marketing lessons here."
So, Sprint is keeping the marketing local for the time being. "We'll have some door-to-door activity as well as regional advertising," Polvika notes.
It has been a long road to XOHM for Sprint. The operator first announced its plan to deploy a nationwide WiMax network in August 2006. (See Sprint Goes WiMax.) The operator had an on-off-on-again relationship to deploy this network with erstwhile partner Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) but got bogged down in money woes later in 2007. (See Sprint, Clearwire Split and Sprint Reconsiders WiMax Plans.) The operator slipped behind schedule in April 2008, blaming a lack of backhaul muscle for its teething troubles. A new Clearwire deal was inked in May that should see a new national WiMax operator formed by the end of the year. (See Clearwire: We're Still on Track and Sprint, Clearwire Form WiMax Giant.)
If that all goes ahead as planned then Sprint's XOHM WiMax assets will eventually be subsumed into the new Clearwire, with WiMax rollouts continuing into 2010 and beyond.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung