Mobile WiMax Goes on the Piste

The first commercial mobile WiMax network in the U.S. launches today -- but it isn't in Baltimore, Chicago, or Portland, Ore., where Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) are planning their initial 802.16e launches. (See CLWR: Where It's at With WiMax.)

It is, in fact, going live in the upscale mountain resort of Jackson Hole, Wyo., courtesy of DigitalBridge Communications Corp. (DBC).

That's right, now you can check your email while you ski and... WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!!! DBC has used several 802.16e mobile WiMax basestations from Israeli vendor Alvarion Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: ALVR) to unwire the getaway spot.

The operator's CEO, P. Kelley Dunne, tells Unstrung the service will cost customers around $40 a month, a price that includes the requisite WiMax PC card. Dunne says the service offers download speeds of 1 Mbit/s, with 250 kbit/s on the uplink.

The Ashburn, Va.-based operator, which began operations late in 2005, already has test customers on the mobile network, although Dunne won't specify how many. The CEO also notes that up to "3 million" visitors pass through Jackson Hole each year.

The company is no stranger to the WiMax game. In June 2007, DBC launched its first commercial fixed WiMax network in Rexburg, Idaho. Its business plan is to provide "broadband wireless to small and medium-sized communities of up to 150,000 people."

Dunne argues that DBC is not really a rival to Clearwire, even though both companies have been building out fixed wireless broadband alternatives to cable or DSL in small towns or cities for a while now.

That's because, unlike Clearwire, DBC intends to keep unwiring the small stuff and not get into larger markets. "We'll never go into a Tier 1," says Dunne.

Clearwire, meanwhile, is intending to launch its first mobile WiMax network in Portland, Ore., later this year. (See Can Clearwire Do It?)

Sprint will likely be the next operator to go commercial with mobile WiMax with a Baltimore launch planned for September. The two operators will then combine into the "new" Clearwire to deploy a national network in 2009. (See Sprint, Clearwire Create $14.5B WiMax Giant, Clearwire: We'll Kick LTE's Butt, and Sprint: More on B'More.)

For its part, DBC intends to upgrade the rest of its operations to 802.16e equipment over time. Dunne couldn't give any exact time scales or say which towns the operator might move to next.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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