Sprint Clears WiMax for Launch

The gear clears testing and standards as Sprint targets an end-of-year rollout.

Sprint kept the WiMax ball moving down the court May 15, declaring its XOHM 3G mobile broadband network has cleared testing and industry standards. Sprint plans to begin service in the Washington-Baltimore region by the end of the year.

XOHM President Barry West said Sprint has created a proven WiMax ecosystem that can "deliver this new technology to the marketplace well ahead of any feasible alternative." WiMax promises faster download speeds than the current cellular networks and holds the potential to be a competitor to fixed-line broadband like DSL.

The news comes just a week after Sprint revived the once beleaguered network by bringing in investors from tech and cable companies to merge Sprint's XOHM division with Clearwire, the wireless broadband provider founded by cellular legend Craig McCaw. Clearwire has 400,000 subscribers in the Seattle area.

Among the heavy hitters investing in the venture are Intel, Google, Comcast and Time Warner. The new strategic investors will be acquiring about 22 percent of the new company that will operate under the Clearwire name.

"This is a major step towards launch readiness," West said in a backslapping joint statement with Samsung, which tested and built the Washington-Baltimore network for Sprint. Motorola is building a Chicago WiMax network for Sprint and Nokia Siemens Networks is being deployed in other test markets.

The new Clearwire is targeting a national network deployment that will cover as many as 140 million people in the United States by the end of 2010.

"The wireless subscribers in the United States are ready to step up to the next level of a truly broadband wireless network that surpasses the performance of existing wireless networks today," said Dr. Hwan Chung, senior vice president of Samsung Telecommunications America.

Sprint said Samsung's gear met the WiMax Forum's standards and the company's own commercial acceptance criteria, including overall performance, handoff performance and handoff delay. The key technical milestones were evaluated both in the XOHM labs and with the Washington-Baltimore commercial service network.

Since staking out a claim on WiMax as its technology of the future in August 2006 and announcing a tentative WiMax partnership with Clearwire a year later, Sprint has struggled to get the project off the ground until announcing its new marriage with the tech and cable giants.

For Comcast and Time Warner, who are putting about $1 billion each in the deal, the investment opens the door to offer bundled services including wireless to compete with AT&T and Verizon. Google tossed $500 million in the pot to become Sprint's preferred mobile search provider, and Intel, with a $550 million stake, will provide chips, networking gear and software for the new network.

"We've made an excellent start developing XOHM WiMax services," Sprint President and CEO Dan Hesse said May 7. "Contributing those advances to a strongly backed new company-in which we'll hold the largest interest-provides Sprint with additional financial flexibility and allows Sprint management to leverage and focus on our core business."

According to Sprint, the new Clearwire will have a time-to-market advantage over AT&T and Verizon, which are backing a rival technology known as LTE (Long Term Evolution).