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Sprint Debuts WiMax Broadband In Baltimore

Sprint Nextel launched WiMax broadband wireless service in its first market, Baltimore, marking the commercial U.S. debut of the technology central to the wireless strategies of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Sprint’s Xohm service, which provides average download speeds of 2 to 4 Megabits per second, is designed to be either a wireline broadband replacement or a mobile Internet service.

As announced earlier this year, Sprint expects to merge its WiMax assets with Clearwire in the fourth quarter to form a new company. The new company, to adopt the Clearwire name, is being backed by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Intel and Google.

Initial pricing plans for Sprint’s WiMax service include a $10-per-day pass; $25 per month for home Internet service; and $30 per month for mobile service. Sprint also launched a customizable Web site, called MyXohm, that will focus on local services and entertainment content.

“This is truly an historic day with the birth of a completely new Internet-based business model that alters the dynamics of the traditional telecom industry,” Barry West, president of Sprint’s Xohm business unit, said in a statement.

The cable partners in the Clearwire venture have said they will wholesale WiMax service and will be able to offer different retail price points and plans.

As offered by Sprint in Baltimore, Xohm will not require long-term commitments or contracts. Multiple WiMax access devices can be grouped under a single account. In addition, Sprint is offering a $50 per month “for life” option covering two different WiMax devices.

Customers will need WiMax-based cards to receive the service. Sprint said Xohm-branded cards from Samsung ($59.99) and ZyXel ($79.99) are available now, with additional WiMax devices such as Intel Centrino 2 WiMax notebook PCs expected to be on the market later this year.

Sprint’s Xohm WiMax network uses the 2.5-Gigahertz spectrum holdings that were combined in the Sprint and Nextel merger. The carrier used WiMax infrastructure developed by Samsung Electronics for the Baltimore-area WiMax network.

According to U.K. research firm Informa Telecoms & Media, there are currently 2.4 million WiMax users worldwide. All told, around 27 million people subscribe to high-speed wireless data services.

Independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan, in a research note, said the Xohm launch “gives Sprint a head start in this kind of service, but we will see other major carriers like AT&T and Verizon roll theirs out over the next year or two.”