Sprint Launches Mobile WiMAX Network

By Naomi Graychase

October 03, 2008

Sprint's XOHM network debuted in Baltimore, MD this week.

Sprint, ushering in what it calls “a new era for wireless consumers,” launched its XOHM mobile broadband commercial service based on WiMAX technology—aka 802.16e—on Monday in Baltimore, MD.

"This is truly an historic day with the birth of a completely new Internet-based business model that alters the dynamics of the traditional telecom industry," said Barry West, president of Sprint's XOHM business unit in a press release Monday. "Wireless consumers will experience WiMAX device and XOHM service innovation on multiple levels as the computer, Internet, telecom, and consumer electronics industries converge to redefine wireless mobility."

The goods

XOHM will initially cost $10/day, or $35/month for home use, or $45/month for mobile use ($50/month for two devices). There are no contracts involved, so users are free to come and go as they please. Daily users opting in via the $10 day pass will need to have a “XOHM-ready device,” though. Not just any WiMAX-ready appliance will do, apparently. (Wi-Fi equipment isn't compatible, either, of course, so existing Wi-Fi users interested in trying out the service will have to pony up for new WiMAX gear.)

Customers can purchase XOHM-branded Samsung Express air cards for $59.99 (for their laptops) and ZyXEL modems ($79.99) to power networks at home. The devices are available via the XOHM Web site, telesales, or select Baltimore-area independent retailers.

Additional WiMAX devices, such as a ZTE USB-based modem and the Nokia N810 WiMAX Edition handheld are expected to be released to consumers later this year. If you’re shopping for a laptop, some with Intel Centrino 2 chipsets may also come with WiMAX as an option in addition to Wi-Fi, but to confirm compatiblity with XOHM, users should first check in at the Web site.

The service

Sprint promises average downlink speeds of 2 to 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) with XOHM. That’s data only—XOHM is not meant as a voice/data service, such as EV-DO Rev A. Sprint doesn’t have any WiMAX phones. However, XOHM can fully support use of VoIP products, such as Skype. Uploads top out at around 1.5Mbps.

WiMAX, as a technology, can get up to 70Mbps downloads, but it’s unlikely XOHM will go there for a while. Sprint likes to call XOHM a “4G” network to indicate its advanced speed over 3G technologies, such as EV-DO, even if it’s not taking full advantage, but "4G" isn’t an official term, just marketing hype.

The future

Currently, access in Baltimore is limited, but Sprint plans to expand the service in the coming months, with new markets in other cities coming soon as well. The XOHM network is reportedly already showing up on capable devices in Philadelphia, though it’s inaccessible at the moment. The XOHM Web site says installation is in the works there, as well as in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Providence, RI, and Washington D.C.

Last fall Sprint and Clearwire announced plans to go their separate ways on the WiMAX front. But, Sprint announced earlier this year that it now has plans to combine its XOHM WiMAX business assets with Clearwire to form a new company called... "Clearwire." According to Sprint, those plans should be completed by the end of the year, after which point, the new Clearwire will deploy Sprint's nationwide WiMAX network. In Monday's press release, Sprint said, "Following the transaction, Sprint will be the only national wireless carrier to sell 4G services through an MVNO structure with the new Clearwire."

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. She is based in Western Massachusetts.

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