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Mobile

B'More Will Be First With Sprint WiMax

LAS VEGAS -- NXTcomm -- Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) CEO Dan Hesse says the operator will launch its first commercial mobile WiMax services this September in Baltimore, Md.

Hesse made the announcement here in Las Vegas during his NXTcomm keynote Wednesday morning. It is the first time the operator has set a month for its initial WiMax launch since it emerged back in April that commercial services were behind schedule. Since then, Sprint executives have generally stuck to the party line that WiMax would go commercial before the end of the year. (See New XOHM Launch Schedule and Sprint Quiet on WiMax Launch Date.)

"Baltimore will be first in September," Hesse told the crowd. "Followed by Chicago and Washington later in the year."

These markets will be subsumed into the "new" Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) national mobile WiMax network, the $3.2 billion deal to create the revamped operator that is expected to close before the end of the year. Sprint holds around a 50 percent stake in the new network. Baltimore, however, may be launched early enough that it still is introduced under the Sprint Xohm brand for WiMax. (See Clearwire: We're Ready for Primetime.)

This is just one of the lingering questions around the sudden ascension of Baltimore to leader of the WiMax pack. Sprint officials have tended to talk about Baltimore, Washington and Chicago as the three introductory markets for WiMax. It is not yet clear whether Baltimore's deployment got ahead of the game, Chicago and Washington, D.C. fell behind, or if this was all part of the plan in the first place. Unstrung hopes to answer some of these questions later today.

So what can the lucky Marylanders expect from WiMax? [Ed note: Aside from some blessed relief from rabid Jimmy Buffett fans?] Initially, WiMax will mean faster connections for notebook computers with smaller devices like tablets and -- eventually -- phones on the horizon for late this year, 2009, or beyond.

Sprint is initially talking about three to six Mbit/s downlinks, while the Clearwire CEO has promised 15 Mbit/s over time. Current 3G services average somewhere around 1 Mbit/s, although some upgrades will make these offerings much faster.

Hesse also stressed that Sprint, and by extension Clearwire, is sticking with "open networks and open standards" for its WiMax deployment. This means that people should be able to use the devices they want and any compatible software they can find over WiMax with minimal interference from the carrier. Hesse said that Sprint would basically check device security and for "nefarious activity" on the new network.

He also intimated that Sprint will try to bring some of this open culture to its other networks, like the older Nextel iDEN deployment. "Openness is essential for new innovation... in this industry," he told the crowd. Verizon Wireless is already well advanced in a similar plan to open its existing CDMA network this year.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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