[Update 10/2/08: Hands-on reviews of Sprint's Xohm service, which is based on Mobile WiMax, have now been posted at LaptopMag.com (XOHM WiMAX In Baltimore: Speed Tests With XOHM ExpressCard) and PCMag.com (Sprint XOHM Mobile WiMAX).]
No sooner had Sprint flipped the switch on its WiMax wireless broadband service--at least in one city--then InfoWorld posted the first hands-on review of what it called a WiMax service (Road test: Does WiMax work in the real world?).
Meeting its promise to launch by the end of September, Sprint began offering service today in Baltimore [press release here]. The InfoWorld review, however, is based on a month of testing of Clearwire's Mobile High Speed Internet service in the Reno, Nevada area. (Next quarter Sprint plans to merge its Xohm business with Clearwire to eventually deploy a nationwide mobile WiMax network. Intel, Google, Comcast and Time-Warner have also invested in the venture.)
WiMax competes with both home broadband services, such as cable and DSL, and mobile 3G data services sold by AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Clearwire's service worked fine in fixed locations: InfoWorld got consistent speeds of 1.5Mbps to 2.0Mbps downstream and 275Kbps to 325Kbps upstream. But it failed to connect at all when in a moving vehicle. "Although WiMax is often thought of as a mobile broadband service, it's really a portable broadband service meant to be used while a device is stationary. The convenience is being able to take that device and use it in different location, all with the same broadband service," InfoWorld concluded.
That seemed puzzling since Sprint and Intel have frequently demonstrated WiMax devices in all sorts of moving vehicles from cars to golf carts to Segways and scooters (really). And it didn't seem to bode well for Sprint's new mobile WiMax service. But it turns out that InfoWorld's review of isn't likely to be an indicator of just how good WiMax will be--either with Sprint or Clearwire. The reason is simple: It isn't WiMax. Clearwire's current network, including in the Reno area, is based on a different technology, Motorola Expedience, which it refers to as pre-WiMax.
Clearwire is conducting beta trials of true mobile WiMax network (based on the 802.16e-2005 standard) in Portland and Atlanta. The company plans to add service next in Las Vegas and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and hopes to upgrade its existing pre-WiMax markets next year to cover a total of 60 million to 80 million "points of presence" by the end of 2009, according to Susan Johnston, a Clearwire spokesperson. Sprint's Xohm network is also based on the 802.16e-2005 standard. There are reasons to believe that these true mobile WiMax services will offer better performance on the go. The Baltimore Sun reported that Sprint had demonstrated how it could smoothly stream a movie to a laptop and display it on an LCD TV while driving trough the city in a van.
The pricing plans Sprint announced today are also competitive. Sprint offers home access for $25 a month and mobile laptop access for $30 a month without contracts, as well as $10 day passes. Laptop cards are $60 and home modems cost $80. Clearwire's pricing is similar. Sprint says additional WiMax devices are in the works including a USB modem, Nokia's N810 tablet, and Intel Centrino 2 laptops. Sprint will also offer dual-mode 3G and mobile WiMax devices.