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The Wall Street Journal reports that Sprint Nextel might bring in Google, Intel, Best Buy for Clearwire joint venture: Such a deal would make new Sprint CEO Dan Hesse’s job easier, reducing capital requirements through outside investors, reducing its demands on his time, and reducing the firm’s exposure.
Madison, Wisc., gets one of first full-scale, full-on WiMax deployments: TDS Telecom (1.2m voice lines, 171K DSL lines), a sister company with US Cellular (6m customers, 26 states), rolls out licensed mobile WiMax, albeit in a fixed configuration. The service covers 55,000 households and 10,000 businesses in Madison with service at up to 6 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The combination of voice and data makes this a first in the U.S., although there are other early WiMax data networks deployed.
Residential service is $50/mo. for 2 Mbps symmetrical with phone service, $55 for 4 Mbps, and $60 for 6 Mbps. Dropping phone service cuts $5 per month, and there’s a $10/mo. bundle discount for the first three months. Business service starts at $129/mo. based on contract length. The WiMax receiver will have a two-hour continuously charged battery backup to preserve voice and data during brief power outages. No mention is made of setup costs or minimum residential service term commitments in the pricing document.
They have seven towers deployed, although the precise number in use is a little confusing: a map shows five running, two still in progress, while the press release mentions six towers at one point and seven at another. Each tower has a two-mile radius of coverage, they say, while their licensed are will allow them a total 35 mile radius around Madison. They’re using Alvarion 802.16e 4Motion equipment, but in a fixed not mobile configuration at launch; the hardware is upgradable later to seamless handoffs.
The company’s press release says that service installation requires a visit from a technician. This is typically the case with all new broadband. When I had DSL installed by then-US West in 1997, it meant a truckroll. Just a couple years later, self-install was the name of the game. The rule in telcos—that I read in a DSL textbook, of all places—is that services have to move to 95 percent self-install, 5 percent truckroll, at worst to become profitable and correctly priced offerings.
Network World is reporting that businesses will be able to buy the unmarketed service in three cities starting on Tuesday, 15-Jan.: The three cities are Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Offerings will be for businesses only. Pricing isn’t noted. Full-scale commercial deployment comes later in 2008.
Even though you can’t use a mobile WiMax network in the U.S. today, analysts are concerned about the lack of hardware: The first production networks are slated to launch in weeks and months, and the Associated Press says only a CPE (home adapter) from Zyxel and a PC Card from ZTE are available. Motorola told me some weeks ago their CPEs would be available in small quantities at launch, moving to mass production during 2008; I’m not sure why they didn’t ramp up in preparation, and they’re not mentioned in this article.
A few laptops and tablet PCs will include WiMax, including the Asus Eee ($1000, 2nd half 2008), OQO (no date or price), and a Nokia tablet (sometime in 2008, no price).
Given the small initial audience that will subscribe, and the newness of the technology, it’s not strange to have so few items, but I would have thought Sprint would have ensured a few CPE models were ready. This article may understate what will actually be available.
Sprint’s strategy is to allow consumers to buy any compatible device and then pay a fee to use it on the network. Prices haven’t yet been set for network service.
Nancy Gohring reports from the Consumer Electronics Show that Sprint maintains all is well in WiMax deployment: The firm said to a “small audience” at CES that they are right where they said they would be from a timing perspective. The company’s CTO, Barry West, said that the firm chose mobile WiMax over CDMA due to CDMA’s higher computational cost—and thus equipment cost—when handling larger swaths of spectrum. He also reaffirmed the network’s openness: any WiMax device a consumer buys will be allowed to run on the network.
A senior VP at Motorola noted that Motorola is involved in 60 WiMax trials worldwide, and Intel’s WiMax lead also said that “WiMax is bigger than Sprint.” True, but Sprint and Clearwire have the most scale committed anywhere in the world, and most of the rest of the world is involved in trials, not committed deployments. If they can’t build it here, they may not be able to build it anywhere, and the fortunes of several companies tumble alongside.