Sprint's 4G Xohm WiMax: How Fast Is It?

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Laptops and Internet Devices

In the market for a new notebook or mobile Internet device? A handful are starting to add built-in WiMax connectivity.

Representative among the new breed is the Lenovo ThinkPad X301. A dead ringer for the ThinkPad X300 on the outside, the X301 updates the system with Intel's latest Montevino processors and built-in WiMax that sits on a mini-USB module. The best part is that the hardware works perfectly with Lenovo's Access Connections software, so it's easy to go from Wi-Fi to WiMax and back again. The connected notebook costs $2,556.

Other WiMax-capable laptops include the Asus M50Vm and the Lenovo ThinkPad SL300, SL500 and T400; soon-to-be-released models include the Acer Aspire 6930 and 4930, the Asus N50Vn-B2WM and F8Va-C2WM, and the Toshiba Satellite U405-ST550W.

"By the end of the year, there will be a dozen WiMax notebooks," says Xohm's West.

But without a doubt, the most exciting product for this new technology is Nokia's N810 WiMax Edition. This hand-friendly Internet tablet squeezes the Web and all it has to offer into a 4-in. 800 x 480 screen. When you're away from a WiMax network, the N810 can connect with its built-in Wi-Fi.

Oddly enough, the missing link is phones. None of Xohm's service plans or device info includes any traditional handsets or smartphones, a key gap in the company's plans.

Xohm's West counters, "For us, voice is just another app. We encourage people to use voice over IP on Xohm." In other words, there will be Xohm phones for sale, but no specific models or dates have been mentioned.

As good as Xohm is, the majority of Sprint's network still uses older and slower EV-DO technology, which leaves a critical gap because there are no dual-network devices available. A dual-network connection card would allow a user in Seattle to tap into the older network but get full speed in Baltimore. West says to expect the first dual-network devices later this year.

The big question is how expensive they will be to use. They will require access to both the old and the new networks, so I expect it to cost more than a single subscription. On the other hand, you won't be able to access two networks at once, which should keep the price of the service plans reasonable.
Shaking up wireless data service

Xohm has rewritten the business model for mobile data by doing away with the subsidies that carriers use to lower the price of phones and data cards to entice new customers.

Over the life of a typical two-year contract, a service's monthly bills are about $10 to $15 higher when you get a discounted device upfront. It's no wonder you can get a free phone or data card when you factor in the extra $240 to $360 the carrier will rake in over time.

By contrast, Xohm users won't need any long-term contract and will get lower prices on monthly service. "This brings simplicity to pricing," says West.

This story, "Sprint's 4G Xohm WiMax: How Fast Is It? " was originally published by Computerworld.

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