Baltimore — Sprint launched commercial mobile WiMAX service in parts of Baltimore and Baltimore County on Sept. 29 and began quickly to expand its WiMAX product selection and distribution channels to include six Best Buy stores, Amazon.com and Sprint kiosks in malls.
At launch, the carrier began offering a $59.99 ExpressCard laptop modem and a $79.99 home modem for its Xohm-branded wireless-broadband service through multiple sales channels. The Samsung-made Express Card laptop modem and the ZyXel-made home modem, both Xohm-branded, became available through the carrier’s Xohm Web site, telemarketing group and select wireless retailers.
Later in the quarter, WiMAX-equipped laptops from Lenovo, Asus, Acer and Toshiba will become available with embedded WiMAX modems, Sprint said. On Oct. 8, however, Newegg.com showed the Asus M50VM in stock at $1,399. The Amazon site showed two Lenovo models, two Acer Aspire models and the Asus model available for preordering at prices ranging from $891 to $1,399. Also for preordering on Oct. 7, Amazon offered the WiMAX edition of Nokia’s pocket-size N810 Internet tablet, equipped with widescreen display and QWERTY keyboard at $451.
Sprint and partners also offered new details about additional products and availability, including:
· a Xohm-branded USB dongle by ZTE, due in October;
· Nokia’s N810 Internet tablet WiMAX edition, due in October through select independent retailers in Baltimore as well as online at www.nokiausa.com;
· the shipment by Intel of its first-ever combined WiMAX/Wi-Fi module, intended as an option for Intel Centrino 2-based laptops;
· the availability of the WiMAX-equipped Toshiba Satellite U405-ST550W exclusively on Toshiba’s Web site at a time described by Toshiba as “soon” — no price was given; and
· plans by Dell, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony to support WiMAX in their laptops starting in 2009.
Such products will depart from the traditional wireless-carrier distribution model, enabling consumers to buy products sold by suppliers directly to retailers and enabling consumers to buy products separately from service, Sprint said.
Sprint’s retail strategy includes direct and indirect channels, local independent retailers, door-to-door sales, Web sales and telesales, the company said. Xohm customers self-activate devices sold through retail channels. Best Buy did not specify which WiMAX products it is selling in its six Baltimore stores.
Through its 4G Xohm network, Sprint promises average download speeds of 2Mbps to 4Mbps, exceeding the average 600kbps to 1.4Mbps download speeds of CDMA 1x EV-DO networks and the 700kbps to 1.2Mbps download speeds of AT&T’s HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) network in the United States.
More markets will get Xohm service in short order, a spokesman said. “We are viewing the Baltimore launch as a validation of our business model and affirmation of marketing messages and programs,” he said. “We will absorb those and carry that experience into our other launches.
Xohm service will be available “soon” in Chicago and Washington and is “in the works” in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Providence, R.I.; and Philadelphia, Xohm’s Web site said. By the end of 2009, the company added, it expects 60 million to 80 million consumers will be able to subscribe to mobile WiMAX service, with the number growing to 120 million to 140 million people by the end of 2010.
Xohm subscribers, who self-activate their devices, aren’t required to sign a contract and are given a choice of a month-to-month home plan, month-to-month mobile plan and a day pass. Subscribers can also activate two separate devices on one monthly plan. The service plans consist of a $10 day pass, a $25 monthly home service and a $30 monthly mobile service. A special launch plan, the $50 "Pick 2 for Life" monthly plan, covers two WiMAX devices.
Eventually, Sprint said, it expects 2.5GHz WiMAX technology to be embedded in a range of computing, portable multimedia, and other business and consumer electronic devices, including in-vehicle products offering navigation, news and entertainment services.
Separately, the company reiterated its expectations that, in the fourth quarter, it will merge its Xohm business with that of Clearwire to form a new company, also called Clearwire, to accelerate the deployment of nationwide mobile WiMAX network. Other investors in the merged entity will include Intel, Google, and cable operators Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Bright House Networks. Once the transaction is complete, Sprint will be the only national wireless carrier to resell Clearwire services, but the investing cable companies will also enter into wholesale agreements with the new company to sell mobile WiMAX service. The cable companies and the new Clearwire will also resell Sprint’s 3G wireless voice and data services.