Sprint Says WiMax on Track for April

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U.S. telecommunications operator Sprint says that the company is on track to soft-launch its next-generation WiMax wireless data service, dubbed Xohm this April, and announced portal and device partnerships designed to bolster the service. Nonetheless, the company was greeted with some raised eyebrows at CES where it was only able to show two computer modems that will be available when the Xohm network comes online, although the company expects about 10 devices to be available at launch, followed by a barrage of consumer devices will become available over time.

Sprint CTO Barry West said at a CES panel that Sprint does not intend to subsidize WiMax devices for customers the way the company subsidizes many mobile phones. (Subsidizing devices means customer pay less out of pocket in order to set hands on the device and start service; the provider makes up the money over the course of a service contract period.) West said Sprint plans to offer daily, weekly, and monthly rates, as well as longer-term WiMax service contracts. "People will be excited about our rates. They won’t be ecstatic about them because we’re not going to give it away," said West.

Sprint is developing WiMax as a data service, and West says the company currently has no plans to offer WiMax phones, although if the technology takes off, third-party devices may incorporate voice services. Sprint has announced embedding deals with San Francisco UMPC Maker OQO, Taiwan’s Asustek (makers of the inexplicably popular Eee PC), and Zyxel, which will make WiMax modems for mobile Internet and voice services. Early WiMax devices should include a laptop model from ZTE Corp and a desktop modem from Zyxel. Asus is planning a WiMax-enabled Eee PC for the second quarter of 2008, with WiMax enabled notebooks coming in the second half of 2008

West describes the initial WiMax universe as being more akin to Wi-Fi roaming than mobile phone roaming; however, unlike Wi-Fi, WiMax service can extend for miles. Sprint currently has test WiMax deployments operational in Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Chicago. WiMax availability will vary by region as Sprint builds out its network through 2009. The company will undoubtedly focus on metropolitan areas at first, although the company is re-evaluating plans to put $5 billion into building out WiMax through 2010.