Sprint is on a roll this week. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported the company is making a big push to sell its network capacity wholesale for use in gadgets such as digital cameras, GPS receivers and MP3 players (it's already in the Kindle). Today the company announced expansion plans for its WiMax wireless network.
Currently the Clear network is available only in Baltimore, where Sprint claims it is reaching average downlink speeds of 2-4 megabits per second, or three to five times faster than 3G. This year, Sprint will add 10 more cities including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle. Boston, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are on the list for 2010. Clearwire has been talking about many of those same cities for more than a year but the rollout has taken longer than expected. In December, Sprint merged its Xohm WiMax business with Clearwire's service, and they rechristened the network Clear, though Sprint now seems to be referring to it as Sprint 4G.
Sprint also announced plans to release over the next two years new WiMax hardware including a tri-mode phone, 4G ExpressCard, small office/home office modem and laptops with integrated WiMax chipsets. Intel already sells a chipset with WiMax, but not many computer makers offer notebooks with them yet--not too surprising given the limited network coverage. In December, Sprint began selling the first dual-mode 3G/4G USB modem. Clearwire sells a home modem and laptop PC card for WiMax only.
Sprint and Clearwire are scrambling to build out the network and get it into more hardware in order to get a jump on a competing 4G wireless technology known as LTE (for Long Term Evolution). With Verizon planning to deploy LTE starting in 2010, conventional wisdom is that the Clear's window was closing fast. But as Unstrung reported yesterday, even if Verizon and others deploy LTE networks it could be 2011, or even 2012, before many LTE-compatible cell phones hit the market. So it looks like Clear is still in the game.
In a related announcement, T-Mobile today released its webConnect USB Laptop Stick, which allows notebooks to directly access its 3G network for the first time. The tri-mode device works on EDGE, 3G and T-Mobile's HotSpot network of 10,000 WiFi access points, and it includes 8GB of its own storage. T-Mobile is selling the webConnect modem for $49.99 with a $59.99 monthly data plan that provides up to 5GB (WiFi usage doesn't count toward the monthly total). AT&T, Verizon and Sprint already offer similar laptop cards and monthly data plans.
- Read the Sprint 4G press release
- Read the T-Mobile webConnect USB Laptop Stick press release