Sprint unveils WiMAX-embedded laptops for Xohm

Ken Wieland, Contributing Editor

October 9, 2008

3 Min Read
Sprint unveils WiMAX-embedded laptops for Xohm

At a press event in Baltimore, a city where Sprint’s mobile WiMAX service is already up and running, the third-largest US mobile operator has unveiled its first batch of WiMAX-enabled notebooks.

The notebook manufacturers are Toshiba, Asus, Acer and Lenovo; a total of eight models are available initially and four more are expected before the end of 2008.

Dell, Panasonic and Sony – according to Sprint – will be shipping WiMAX-enabled laptops next year.

US chip giant Intel, and arch WiMAX supporter, says it is now shipping its first-ever combined WiMAX/Wi-Fi module to PC manufacturers, an optional feature for Intel Centrino 2-based laptops.

The Nokia N810 internet tablet WiMAX edition is expected to become available later this month, as is a Xohm-branded USB dongle from Chinese vendor ZTE. The dongles, says Sprint, which will carry little or no operator subsidy, are expected to retail at under $50. 

Barry West, president of Xohm, Sprint’s WiMAX business unit, said at the press event that Sprint is “seriously looking” at rolling out Xohm service in some markets beyond Baltimore before closing the Clearwire deal, which is expected to happen during 4Q 2008 following FCC approval.

Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO, told reporters that the Clearwire joint venture partners (Intel, Google and three US cable companies) are “all systems go”, despite the global credit crunch. The Sprint CEO did add, however, that the Clearwire venture would need at some later stage an additional $2bn to complete WiMAX network rollout. (The JV partners have already pledged $3.2bn.)

“We believe that when the time comes, the markets will be more open and we’ll be able to raise [the $2bn],” said Hesse, adding that the JV partners have strong enough balance sheets to help out if needed.

Going forward, 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 is hoping to launch later this year under the Sprint brand.

As a data-only and mobile internet service, Xohm is hoping to create and serve a new mobile broadband market, which offers a PC-like internet experience on handheld devices and laptops. Average downlink speeds will be between 3Mbps and 5Mbp on the Xohm network, says Sprint, with uplink speeds ranging between 1Mbps and 2Mbps.

While a much better mobile internet experience than what customers can receive from their traditional mobile service providers is key to the Xohm value proposition, so too are more attractive data package offers than the ones coming from ‘traditional’ mobile operators. There are no long-term contracts with Xohm and the monthly package is $30; a ‘day pass’ is available for $10. 

By contrast, AT&T Wireless introduced its latest (and smallest) USB dongle last month, which can access its HSPA network. The dongle is ‘free’, but only if the customer signs up to a two-year contract at $60 per month.  AT&T says that customers, typically, will be able to receive between 700Mbps and 1.7Mbps on the downlink and 500Kbps and 1.2Mbps on the uplink, which are much slower than the speeds claimed by Xohm.

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