XOHM's Big WiMax Demo Day
"I had a lot of fun reading the blogs predicting we wouldn't make it," Sprint CTO Barry West told the audience here in a tent near the Bond Street Wharf. Sprint just did get its network turned on in September, meeting its own deadline after many predicted that the operator would actually launch in October. (See Sprint's 50 Buck Chuck, Chicago WiMax Is 'Imminent', and Hello XOHM.)
But today's event was a demonstration of what would run on that new network. As such, West sang the praises of the embedded model that he claims will make the cost of WiMax silicon low enough that the cost of adding it to the bill of materials for a consumer device will be neglible. "Eventually everthing will come with WiMax chips inside," he predicted.
To start down that yellow chip road, Sprint has unveiled 10 laptops with embedded WiMax from Acer Inc. , AsusTek Computer Inc. , Lenovo Group Ltd. (Hong Kong: 992), and Toshiba Corp. (Tokyo: 6502), along with a ZyXEL Communications Corp. USB modem and some PC cards. West is promising "nearly a dozen devices" on the market by the end of December with "20 additional devices going through the certification process."
The concentration on laptops is perhaps apt, since Sprint really is focusing on selling the service as a citywide "best endeavor" hotspot. So it's not meant to be as dependable as, say, a lower-speed connection on an older cellular network. "We're about three quarters of the way through the build-out program here," said West. "We're not trying to compete with cellular for now; we will eventually."
Sprint is currently continuing to build out the network in Baltimore with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) equipment. "We've got north of 180 basestations in place," West says.
West says Sprint chose Baltimore as its showcase city because of the lessons the XOHM engineers could learn about deploying WiMax across the U.S. in a city that has a lot of water around it and brick buildings inside it, which generally make radio signal propagation tricky. "Any RF engineer in here would tell you you're out of your tiny mind to launch here."
For now, Sprint is promising broadband speeds better than 3G in places that WiFi may not be able to reach. Unstrung saw download speeds between 1 Mbit/s and 3.5 Mbit/s in the various tests here today. A video download glitched initially in the water taxi test, but video started streaming around 15 seconds after being clicked on for the second try.
Mobile video is an important aspect for XOHM, according to Sprint CEO Dan Hesse. "Probably the real killer app is mobile video," he noted. "The mobile content industry is already bigger than Hollywood, it is already bigger than the global music industry... Imagine what they can do with 4G."
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung