Ken Wieland, Contributing Editor

September 29, 2008

4 Min Read
Mobile WiMAX lands: Xohm out of the gates in Baltimore

Barry West, president of Xohm, the mobile WIMAX business unit of Sprint, has been as good as his word. After missing the original Xohm commercial launch deadline in April 2008, West subsequently pledged that the service would launch during September in the east coast city of Baltimore. And so it has with just a day to spare.

For the 1.2 million citizens in Baltimore that are within the mobile WiMAX coverage area (the total Baltimore population is 1.7 million) they can now access the Xohm page, or visit one of a ‘select number of retail outlets’, to place their orders for either a Zyxel modem ($79.99) for the home PC, or a Samsung Express Air Card ($59.99) for their laptops.

They can also choose from a number of different tariff packages. The ‘On-the-Go’ package is priced at $30 per month, while the ‘Daily On-the-Go’ package is priced at $10. There is also a $25 per month ‘Home’ service.  

The ‘Pick 2’ option allows users to have two different category of device as part of a single tariff package. The device categories are modems, data cards (including USB modems), embedded WiMAX laptops and mobile devices.

While the initial Xohm-branded device selection is modest, this is expected to widen next month. A WiMAX USB model from ZTE will most likely become available, which will be priced at under $50 according to an interview with sister publication, WiMAX Vision, earlier this month. In fact, West was initially anticipating that the ZTE USB modem would be available at launch today.

Also in the device pipeline next month are WiMAX-embedded laptops and the Nokia N810 internet tablet WiMAX edition. West says he will be announcing further plans on 8th October at a Baltimore press event for more WiMAX-embedded devices.

Average downlink speeds will be between 3Mbps and 5Mbps, says West, with uplink speeds ranging between 1Mbps and 2Mbps. A much better mobile internet experience than what customers can receive from their traditional mobile service providers is central to the Xohm value proposition. 

West adds that Xohm-branded devices will not include dual-mode WiMAX/1x EV-DO chipsets. “Sprint is working on WiMAX and 1x EV-DO air cards which it hoping to launch later this year [under the Sprint brand],” he says.

This might suggest that Xohm, as it is targeting an entirely new market – standalone, mobile internet devices without recourse to cellular coverage, as well as WiMAX-enabling a number of consumer electronics devices – will find it more difficult to gain mobile WiMAX traction than Sprint, at least in the short term. The mobile operator would seem to have the easier marketing task of offering existing customers faster data speeds on the move via the MVNO arrangement it will have with the new Clearwire. West adds that marketing efforts for Xohm have been “very little” so far.

Yet the Xohm president, rather than being daunted by the challenge appears to relish it, representing as it does the chance to usher in a new era in telecom service. “Having the internet with you wherever you are-and the internet has become the repository of all human knowledge-is going to become absolutely essential for everybody,” he says. “It will take two or three years [to take off] but it took more than twenty years to get the cellphone to the point where nobody would give it up.”

The Xohm network currently has a total of around 1,300 base station sites ‘on air’ across six markets: Baltimore, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia. West expects Xohm to have a total of 2,000 base station sites on air, across these six markets, by the end of 2008.

West does not reveal a timetable for commercial launch in markets beyond Baltimore, the timing of which would appear to depend on when the proposed ‘new’ Clearwire joint venture-comprising Sprint’s Xohm business unit, Clearwire, Google, Intel and three US cable operators, and which West is designate president-is given the go-ahead by the FCC.

Clearwire has already stated it is waiting for the new joint venture to close before committing to widespread commercial mobile WiMAX deployment and it seems West would also prefer to wait, hinting that the new Clearwire will be able to make a much bigger market splash than either Xohm or the old Clearwire could achieve by launching services separately. “We’re working on grander plans to launch through [the new company],” says West.

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