This Week in WiMax

9:45 AM -- This week in WiMax, here are the big issues, as I see them:

Open Range's very small start to selling WiMax
While other service provider wannabees wait anxiously to see if they can grab a few million in table-scrap money from the gubmint, the biggest recipient of rural-fund cash -- a curious entity called Open Range Communications, which isn't shy about the $267 million loan it's getting from the feds -- is now actually selling WiMax services in a small section of northern Colorado, about an hour or so north of Denver up I-25 (apparently, the service is available in roughly the same area covered by Thursday's now-infamous balloon flight). But it's the softest of soft launches ever, with minimal information on the company Website and just a few small-scale resellers on the ground locally to answer questions and make a sale.

Open Range has been in the news a bit this fall, signing a $100 million infrastructure deal with WiMax specialist Alvarion, and a Voice over IP deal with WiMax VoIP specialist Alianza, both complete with the requisite press releases and fluffery comments. But other than that, Open Range has been relatively quiet, leading many in the industry to wonder if and when services would ever become available from Open Range.

Apparently the horses have now left the barn: On its Website the company is advertising its baseline services -- $59.45 a month for what it calls "high speed broadband Internet" and unlimited local and long-distance calling to the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico; plus, email with up to eight email boxes! No info on how fast its "high-speed broadband" Internet actually is; and if you call the toll-free number on the Open Range Website, don't believe the recorded announcement that says someone will answer in one minute. Instead, be prepared to listen to folksy western music until the cows come home. And fall asleep. And get ready for milkin' in the mornin'.

Open Range is also advertising a "simple" package with no VoIP for $38.95 a month. Not sure how competitive these prices are with what's available in the area, but since Open Range's business plan is to deliver broadband where it ain't, it's probably a good guess that Open Range markets like this one -- remote Denver exurb, mixed in with the start of Eastern Colorado's ranch and farm land -- are probably underserved when it comes to broadband, so it might find some ready takers. But if you're trying to find out where Open Range service is actually available, the map isn't much help since it doesn't show where actual services are being sold. But if you enter in every address in the U.S. into the Website's availability finder, you might be able to do a Google Maps mashup yourself. Now that's a stealthy launch!

When we called one of the local resellers listed on Open Range's Website, the woman answering the phone couldn't be more helpful or gracious -- when we asked what equipment we'd get for the service (again, no device info on the Website), she helpfully described the WiMax modem as "about half the size of your kitchen toaster," with two antennas, a power cord, and a place to plug your computer in (we are guessing she was just being kind to us and not using the word "Ethernet" purposely). Let's hope the friendliness continues as Open Range rolls out the rest of its 500-plus communities, apparently in a slow and silent fashion.

Need to know more about Clearwire and WiMax? Our second version of the Clearwire NTK report, which covers Clearwire events from June through September, costs less than a large beer at the local Sprint Nascar race. Just $4.95 at the Sidecut store. Also available for the Kindle. Available now for free download is our "WiMax Business Deployment Guide."

— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a WiMax analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung.

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