Sprint CEO: Baltimore first to get WiMAX

Dan Hesse told attendees of a communications trade show Wednesday that its much hyped 4G data network will see its first commercial deployment in September in Baltimore.

Sprint's Xohm WiMAX technology aims to provide data rates well above what current 3G technologies provide. In tests, Sprint's network is able to transfer data at rates of 2-4 Mbps, roughly the same as the average DSL line.

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Yesterday's announcement marks the beginning of the end of a long and rocky road in Sprint's deployment of WiMAX technology -- a process that began in August 2006. At times, the new network appeared threatened due to a lack of funding. But in May, six months after a corporate shakeup that put Hesse in charge, the company finally got its act together.

It was at that time when Sprint finalized its deal to work with Clearwire on WiMAX -- which also briefly looked like a no-go -- along with $3.5 billion in funding. As part of the agreement, Sprint spun off its WiMAX assets, which some investors saw as dragging on the company's already shaky earnings.

Tests have been ongoing in the Baltimore area for well over a year, as well as in neighboring Washington, DC for about a year and a half. Those tests were successfully completed in April of this year.

Along with Baltimore, Sprint hopes to turn on two more cities before the end of the year: Washington, DC and Chicago. However, Hesse did not provide any exact dates as to when that would occur.

Sprint has also tapped local storage company SwapDrive to provide its customers with storage over the cloud for customers of the service. The company, owned by Symantec, is based in Washington, DC.

The cementing of the carrier's plans could very well be the reason why the wireless carrier will finally be able to roll out the product commercially. It will also give the company a head start: Hesse boasted the company was at least "two years ahead" of any other carrier on 4G.

Despite Hesse's enthusiasm, what remains to be seen now is whether or not WiMAX will actually become an accepted mobile technology. While its supporters claim it is the future of mobile broadband. Here in the US, Sprint is the only wireless carrier to commit thus far.

Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have committed to another technology, called Long Term Evolution (LTE), and many others have done the same. Essentially what this means for many is that down the road, the lines between GSM and CDMA -- the worlds two top wireless technologies -- will begin to blur.

There is another competing 4G technology -- called Ultramobile Broadband (UMB) -- supported by the CDMA Development Group and Qualcomm -- but increasingly carriers are opting for other technologies.

With Sprint one of the few carriers using WiMAX, it risks having a harder time attracting compelling devices as it would be playing to a much smaller consumer base.

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