Sprint Nextel launched its mobile WiMax broadband network in the city of Baltimore on Monday.
Xohm (pronounced "zome") will offer download speeds of between 2M bps (bits per second) and 4M bps, with prices starting at US$30 a month for mobile users, the company said.
Other plans include a one-day pass at $10, a home Internet option at $25 a month, and a "Pick 2 for Life" introductory offer that allows two devices to access the network for $50 a month. Customers won't have to sign a long-term contract.
The company plans to introduce another modem from Chinese manufacturer ZTE later this year, and also expects to see notebook PCs and a wireless Internet tablet from Nokia with WiMax modems built in. Sprint also plans to sell a dual-mode wireless modem capable of connecting to the WiMax network and to its existing 3G (third-generation) mobile phone network.
Following the Baltimore launch, Sprint plans commercial service in nearby Washington, D.C. and in Chicago before the end of the year. The carrier also is building networks in Philadelphia, Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Its WiMax business will be combined with wireless startup Clearwire, to form a company that will carry Clearwire's name, in a deal expected to close by the end of this year. Clearwire plans a commercial launch in Portland, Oregon, in this quarter and may also go live in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Grand Rapids, Michigan, by year's end.
Sprint's network has been delayed several times, partly by turmoil within the company. Sprint and Clearwire said in July 2007 they had reached a 20-year agreement to jointly build a national WiMax network that would launch in Chicago and the Baltimore-Washington market in 2007 and reach 100 million U.S. residents by the end of 2008. But that deal fell through after Sprint Chairman, President and CEO Gary Forsee was fired last November. It wasn't until May 2008 that Sprint and Clearwire got back together, this time with big-name partners including Intel, Google and Comcast and other cable operators.
Sprint's project represents not only the world's biggest network using the emerging 4G (fourth-generation) technology, but also a desperate effort to regain competitive momentum in the U.S. mobile market. The nation's third-largest carrier lags badly behind leaders AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, and it has been losing subscribers. A poor reputation for customer service has dogged the company, and it has not been able to capitalize on its 2005 acquisition of Nextel.
The multipartner deal in May addressed a major hurdle for the ailing Sprint, that of financing the WiMax rollout. Together, the partners agreed to finance the Clearwire joint venture to the tune of $14.5 billion. Still, the business represents several gambles. Sprint, Intel and consumer electronics makers are betting that subscribers will want to buy unsubsidized devices in high volume, eventually driving down manufacturing costs, for a service that will only reach a handful of markets at first. And although the WiMax joint venture will have a head start over AT&T and Verizon's 4G networks, which are not expected go have significant rollouts until 2010 or later, those carriers continue to roll out faster 3G systems.