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Sprint lights up WiMax 4G in San Francisco

Mobile operator Sprint (and partner Clearwire) have been hustling to make good on their promised to bring 4G WiMax service to a range of major U.S. markets by the end of 2010, and today the company is officially putting a check mark next to a very important urban area: Sprint has officially launched 4G WiMax service in San Francisco.

“The Bay Area is responsible for creating so much new technology and today we are bringing the power of 4G to our customers in that region who are hungry for fast mobile broadband,” said Sprint 4G president Matt Carter, in a statement. “The introduction of Sprint 4G will be a great asset for this area, and we encourage customers to try it by using one of our well-regarded 4G mobile devices.”

WiMax service is initially available in San Francisco proper, as well as Oakland and the technology hotbeds of San Jose and Palo Alto. Sprint begin rolling out WiMax service in 2008, and says it’s now up and running in 71 markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, Las Vegas, Raleigh-Durham, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. Sprint and partner Clearwire offer a range of WiMax-capable devices and phones, including a QWERTY-equipped variety of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, home and mobile hotspots, and data modems for notebook computers.

The big question for Sprint and Clearwire is whether they can keep their WiMax business going as serious competition looms from LTE technologies being deployed by Verizon Wireless and others. Clearwire has been struggling to find funding to continue building out its network (recently launching a $1.1 billion debt offering following layoffs), and Sprint has been working hard to stem subscriber losses. And WiMax faces competition from upstart “3.5G” HSPA+ technologies offered by T-Mobile (which boldly calls their network “4G”) that can match some of the performance specs of Sprint’s WiMax offerings…without bring Sprint.