4G Blog by 4Ginfo.com

News, info, reviews, and opinions on WiMAX, LTE, Clearwire, XOHM, and Sprint 4G

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Any time a new technology launches, there are bound to be a few questions - and manufacturers/providers/etc aren't always exactly thorough about making things clear.

Case in point: Sprint's confusing home vs mobile XOHM coverage.

Sprint is currently offering two WiMAX devices, one billed as a "home modem" that you use like a standard modem (plug into a power supply and then connect to your computer via an ethernet cable OR plug it into any standard wireless router and access it wirelessly) and the other is an ExpressCard. When you go to check coverage on the XOHM site, you are given two options: search for coverage for "mobile devices" or for "modems." Depending on which you select, the coverage map looks different - but what is the difference between the two?

After searching both the official site and performing an extensive good old fashioned Google search and coming up empty, I decided to bite the bullet and call XOHM. Wireless providers are notorious for not having the greatest customer and technical support (which is why you buy from 3G Store!), so I was very interested (and a tad nervous) to see how Sprint would do with their brand new service. Would the reps be knowledgeable, considering the newness of the service?

Well, it took me three calls with three different reps to get an answer that made sense. I asked the same question each time: "What is the difference between the 'modem' and 'mobile device' coverage shown on your maps?"

The first time I called, the man who answered (who, to his credit, was very nice and professional) listened to my question and responded as if he'd heard this inquiry a thousand times. He confidently explained that XOHM operated on two different frequencies and that the home modem could only access the coverage marked as "modem" and the ExpressCard (and other mobile devices, such as internal laptop modems) would be covered by the other service area. I had never heard of this before and it didn't make any sense. Why would they need or want to create essentially two separate networks that could only be accessed by certain devices?

So I called again, hoping to get a different employee. Another very nice man answered, and like his coworker was more than happy to answer my question. His answer was completely different, though. According to Rep #2, there was only one frequency and any device could access it as long as you're in the coverage area. When I pressed further, asking why the map shows two different coverage areas depending on which type of device you choose, he was stumped. He put me on hold to ask a supervisor; when he came back he told me he wasn't sure WHY the map was like that but that, don't worry, the service was the same and either device would work. I politely asked him to ask again, figuring that there must be SOME reason that they created the map in that fashion - there must be a difference! When he returned after asking another supervisor, he informed me that there was no reason for the maps to be that way and it must have been a mistake.

Strike two.

I called again, because neither answer that I received was remotely satisfactory. With Rep # 3, I finally hit the jackpot with a man who had clearly been paying attention to Sprint's training videos. He explained that the home modem - the Zyxel coffee maker-shaped modem - has very strong omni-directional antennas built into it, and thus the range when you are using it is much wider than when you use an ExpressCard. With the home modem, you'll be able to access XOHM from further away from the tower - which explains the two parts of the coverage map. In other words, there is indeed just ONE type of signal coming off the towers, the home modem's strong built-in antennas simply let you access it from a wider range.

Even though it took a few calls, I would like to mention that all three of the gentlemen were very polite. It just seems that Sprint hasn't been able to provide comprehensive training on their new service yet.

Join the discussion at 4G Forums

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The official launch is still two weeks off, but Sprint's XOHM network is already up and running in Baltimore and some of the surrounding suburbs. They've also released pricing information - and it's good news! You DON'T need a contract, and the prices are very reasonable: plans include a $10 Day pass, $25 monthly Home Internet service and $30 monthly On-the-go service. Special launch pricing also includes a $50 "Pick 2 for Life" monthly service option that covers 2 WiMAX devices!

Some pertinent details from the release:

  • No long-term commitments or contracts are required, freeing customers from restrictive long-term subsidized plans
  • Monthly home, on-the-go and day-pass Internet plans provide service choices
  • A single monthly charge covers service for multiple WiMAX access devices
  • WiMAX devices are purchased like other computing/consumer electronic devices
  • XOHM broadband service is self-activated and includes future updates capability
If you live in the Baltimore area, check out the coverage map to see if you are lucky enough to be in the service area:

It's not incredibly wide spread yet, but there's enough coverage to give it a try.

Obviously, you will need a modem. It looks like they are launching with a $79.99 home modem, a $59.99 ExpressCard, and a USB modem. Here's a look at the MAX-206M2 by ZyXEL modem:

The ExpressCard:
And the USB modem:
Now for the bad news on these devices: neither the ExpressCard NOR the USB modem are compatible with Mac!! We hope that sometime in the near future when the network is a bit more widespread we will be able work on some sort of work-around like we did back before EVDO devices offered official Mac support, so stay tuned.

Read the full press release on 4Ginfo.com
Discuss the launch/pricing on 4G Forums

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We mentioned earlier in the month that Illinois service provider iPCS was going to court to attempt to prevent Sprint from offering their XOHM service in their market since Clearwire is involved in the new network. iPCS has exclusive rights to provide Sprint service in the 81 markets in which they operate, and contend that Sprint providing service on other networks or in conjunction with other providers goes against their contract.

Back when Sprint acquired Nextel, iPCS was successful in keeping them from operating the Nextel network in their markets. Sprint has been fighting like crazy ever since to get that overturned, but the Illinois state Supreme Court has upheld the ruling - Sprint still can't operate Nextel in that area.

This latest court ruling (and by the way, they've announced that they are STILL going to continue the appeals... good luck with that) indicates - to me - that the odds of iPCS being able to block Sprint from using Clearwire in their markets is VERY strong. This, of course, means that customers in that area would NOT be able to subscribe to WiMAX, unless iPCS was able to offer the service themselves.

Sprint will absolutely continue to fight this in every court they can get to accept their case, but a contract is a contract. It's unfortunate that they included an airtight exclusivity section in the contract, but now they must honor it. They COULD buy themselves out of the contract - but it would cost them an estimated $1 billion.

If you're an iPCS subscriber with thoughts on this, please share with us at the 4G Forums!

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Are you ready, Baltimore??

Sprint announced today that the WiMAX XOHM network will debut in Baltimore on October 8th - just a little over 2 weeks away.

Sprint has assured the world that the network has been thoroughly tested and is definitely ready for deployment. They didn't release any marketing/sales info yet, though - a "source" says that will probably happen sometime next week. Thus there's no news just yet on how much it will cost per month, whether a contract is needed, what kind of devices will be available and how much those will cost. I would love to speculate on that stuff, but we really just don't know yet! My guess would be that it will cost MORE than EVDO per month, but then again, maybe they'll want to lure early adopters in with good deals. As for devices, I think we can expect a variety of USB and ExpressCard modems, just like they offer for EVDO.

Next step: accessories! Antennas, routers... how long will it take for those to become available?

If you're a Baltimore-ite and become a WiMAX user, please share your thoughts on 4G Forums!

Discuss the Baltimore release on 4G Forums

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Friday, September 19, 2008

In a world where "can't we all just get along?" is nothing more than a meaningless cliche these days, 4G device manufacturers are actually doing something along those lines: creating 4G products that will feature both LTE and WiMAX capabilities!

Not all vendors will create devices like this, and not all carriers will offer them. But Intel and Ericson have already been making chips for laptop companies that work with LTE and WiMAX, and we'll be seeing the same cool feature available in everything from cameras to smartphones to video cameras at some point.

Having the ability to use your device on different networks is huge for consumers. You'd have the option of signing up for both services and being able to access either one depending on which coverage area you're in, and canceling service with one provider to switch to another wouldn't require a new modem/laptop/etc. The question now is whether LTE-only and WiMAX-only service providers (i.e. Sprint and Verizon) will be willing to sell devices that don't lock you into their service.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

From the "I wish my college had been that cool!" files...

The James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland is turning themselves into a WiMAX guinea pig, deploying a fully functional wireless WiMAX broadband on campus. Nodes, routers, and base stations on campus will be used to create the network. The "lab," as they're calling it, is being built in collaboration with the industry group the WiMAX Forum, and there is only one other one in the world right now - in Taiwan.

The school has a research lab right on campus - the Laboratory for Telecommunications Sciences - and they are providing the equipment, a lot of which is made by Motorola, including the base stations and a lot of the devices. This test network is going to be a learning experience for the students, too. Computer Science majors are going to work on applications like real-time campus bus updates that other students will be able to use with the WiMAX system. They also aim to put it to use for security purposes, allowing information about emergency situations to reach security and police much quicker.

This experiment is a huge boon to the lucky students, but it will also benefit locals who live near campus. The WiMAX range is much further than wifi, so folks living in nearby areas will likely be able to take advantage, too!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

WiMAX World, a big meeting of the minds for WiMAX developers, engineers, providers, and device manufacturers, and one of the fun things they do there is recognize the best in the biz in several different categories. Companies can win awards in the following categories:

  • Service Provider Deployment
  • System Design
  • Devices/Peripherals/Application Software
  • Chip Design
  • Industry Innovation
  • Industry Choice
The finalists were announced yesterday, and they include a bunch of names with which we are not too familiar with just yet (but I'm sure we will be as WiMAX keeps rolling on!) and a couple that everybody knows. The most interesting award for most of us consumers is the honor in the devices category, as we've been eagerly awaiting more news and details on just what we'll be using to access the network when we are all finally able to.

Finalists in that category are: Motorola for the USBw100, WiMAX 20/20 for the WiROI, and ZTE USA for the TU25 USB WiMAX Dongle Modem. ZTE USA and Motorola's offerings are modems, obviously, and the WiROI is described as a "business case tool," which calculates and analyzes expenses of a variety of deployment plans and service models - very useful for all the companies rushing to build their networks.

Stay tuned at the end of the month for more news on WiMAX World - including, hopefully, some actual looks at those devices!

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Earlier in the year AT&T tried to put the legal kibosh on Sprint and Clearwire, hoping to prevent them from completing the big merger that would (will) surely make them a WiMAX superpower. The merger is still going through, but AT&T isn't the only company less than thrilled about it.

Illinois' iPCS is a service provider that serves around 640,000 subscribers in portions of Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Tennessee with Sprint service, and they have been battling it out with Sprint ever since their acquisition of Nextel back in 2005. With the Nextel issue, iPCS argued that the merger breached the exclusivity portions of their contract with Sprint, and they were successful - court rulings forced Sprint to ditch their Nextel operations in the areas iPCS covers. Now that Clearwire is joining the mix to create a widespread WiMAX network, iPCS is back in the courts again, trying to do the same thing with this merger that they did with the Nextel issue. Timothy M. Yager, president and CEO of iPCS explained their point of view in a news release:

“Over the past few years the exclusivity provisions of our affiliation agreements have been continually tested by Sprint, and we believe that it is appropriate and necessary to continue to defend our rights under the agreements. We firmly believe that the Illinois courts, including the Illinois Appellate Court, that have previously enforced our exclusivity protection will also find that this latest attempt by Sprint to compete with us in our territory is another violation of our agreements.”
Essentially iPCS is arguing that their contract with Sprint promises that iPCS has the exclusive rights to use Sprint's network, and continued mergers with other providers go against this and wreak havoc with their place in the market.

Obviously, Sprint is fighting back. The Clearwire merger is crucial to their goal of creating the first major WiMAX network in the country, and being blocked in 80 markets - however small or large they may be - puts a crimp in their plans. They're heading to the Illinois Circuit Courts to contest iPCS's claims and hope to get things cleared up ASAP as they move forward with their WiMAX plans.

The question now is what will/would happen if iPCS is successful again in their attempts to keep their market exclusively Sprint.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Virgin Mobile recently began using the EVDO network (via Sprint) for their service, and it looks like they are planning to continue on the broadband trend. It was reported this week that they are looking into offering WiMAX devices when the time comes, since they have access to Sprint's network.

This is all thanks to Virgin's recent acquisition of MVNO Helio. Sprint uses MVNO's network for their 3G and voice services, so Virgin will be able to tag on to their WiMAX network and offer it themselves as well. I wonder if they'll offer something prepaid?

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LTE is still years away from becoming available to us patient USA-ers, but it DOES work - and here's some proof!

Last month we reported on a test that Nortel and LG Electronics ran up in Ottawa, when they took a computer on a cruise through town at 100km/hr to test an LTE connection. The experiment was a success: they stayed connected as they drove and peaked at 50 megabits per second download, and even more impressively, their upload speed was 20 megabits/second.

3G4G blog unearthed a very cool video of the test drive and some cool commentary from Nortel themselves. Check it out:

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Verizon may have a history of rebuffing Google, particularly its Android platform, but such is not the case for Clearwire. In a chat with Unstrung.com, CEO Ben Wolf confirmed that their WiMAX XOHM devices will indeed make use of Android.

Between their earlier timeline and now the confirmation that Sprint/Clearwire XOHM users will get to use Android devices, Verizon is looking further and further behind in the 4G market. They did show some interesting progress this week with talk of their new "open development" policy, but how far will that carry them?

Discuss Clearwire and Android on 4G Forums

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Clearwire's "WiMAX van," complete with computers and WiMAX devices inside for testing (photo courtesy of www.unstrung.com)

The CTIA conference continues to be the amazing wireless event we were all hoping for, showcasing all the latest technology and products. Today's cool news comes courtesy of Clearwire, who demonstrated their WiMAX (XOHM) technology by setting up a few WiMAX towers in the San Francisco area and driving around in their "WiMAX van" to show their broadband service to conference attendees. They're taking folks on tours around the city and letting them see firsthand the speediness and uninterrupted connectivity of the service. They are reporting average speeds between 2-4Mbps, topping out at 10 megs (!). Of course, it's unlikely that WE would see such speeds when we finally get access to WiMAX, because we'll be sharing the bandwidth with our neighbors and whatnot, but it's still exciting to see a new technology actually work in the "real world" (well, a controlled real world environment, to be fair)!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

There are a lot of benefits to the big Sprint/Clearwire merger, which is getting very close to being finalized, but like most everything in this complicated world, there is at least one downside to the partnership. Unlike LTE, Sprint has been promoting WiMAX products as being "dual-mode," meaning they operate on both CDMA and WiMAX systems. With a CDMA option, users can roam the world and activate service in areas that operate on non-SIM networks, a huge plus for consumers that travel globally and need internet access wherever they go.

Really, though?

Not for XOHM users!

Here's the deal: Clearwire/Sprint's WiMAX products will be marketed under the XOHM name, and those products and service are on the way beginning this year. For some reason, Sprint wants to keep XOHM products WiMAX only - no CDMA. They WILL be offering dual-mode products (including a laptop card that will debut sometime next year, most likely), but only on the Sprint-branded not network.

Confusing enough for you? Frustrating?

For many early adopters, it won't make much of a difference. Not everyone travels around the world, and for them CDMA is really a non-issue. But what about business travelers and the like? They will be forced to either wait until they can get a Sprint-only device or go through the pain of switching after some time of using XOHM stuff.

Only time will tell whether this confusing split between dual- and single-mode devices will make a big impact on consumers. We do know that there is a percentage of 3G users that are disappointed by the lack of CDMA support for EVDO from Verizon and Sprint, and I'm sure that will transfer to 4G.

Discuss this news on 4G Forums

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We reported on the Sprint/Clearwire merger back in August, but the merger is still not quite complete. Thanks to the complaint filed by AT&T (a desperate attempt on their part to slow down XOHM and give them a little more time to get their own technology rolling... in my opinion), regulatory approval has taken a bit longer than they would have liked, but Clearwire CFO John Butler has stated that he expects the deal to be finalized by the end of the year.

In addition to teaming up together, Sprint/Clearwire is also partnering up with Google, Intel, Time Warner Cable and Comcast to create their network. It looks like "the more the merrier" is what Sprint/Clearwire thinks will make their XOHM plan a success - and I think they're on to something. Comcast and Time Warner will be able to add WiMAX service to their "bundle" packages available to customers, Intel will provide things like chipsets, and Google, of course, can offer everything from search to maps.

The merger also gives Sprint/Clearwire a lot more cash to work with: the new company is estimated to be worth $14.55 billion! Development and wide-range deployment of a new network is going to cost them, and with money at their disposal they'll be able to move forward much more quickly. With yesterday's news that LTE might not be ready for widespread use until 2015, this partnership and the money they'll have to use is going to give Sprint/Clearwire a huge jump on their competition. Will LTE ever be able to catch up?

Discuss the merger on 4G Forums
Read the press release on 4Ginfo.com

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

We've known for quite some time that the timetable for LTE was significantly different from WiMAX - carriers have already started rolling out WiMAX service around the world while LTE was being talked about as a service that wouldn't be ready until about 2012. Now, though, that 2012 date is starting to sound a little optimistic to some experts.

Here is what wireless consultant Andrew Seybold had to say about the matter at his conference (which is being held in conjunction with the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference in San Francisco):

  • There is no huge rush on the part of the carriers to provide 4G services
  • LTE likely wont become available until 2015
  • LTE download speeds of 71-143 Mbps are entirely theoretical and will be considerably slower when they are applied to the real world.
  • Handset and chip-makers are pushing to get LTE out there, not carriers
In other words, there is no real threat of LTE usurping 3G technologies like EVDO anytime soon. However, Seybold failed to mention anything about how WiMAX will effect 3G technologies, though - which is unfortunate since that is the technology that is actually becoming available as we speak...


Monday, September 08, 2008

USA users of carriers like Sprint and Verizon have long wished their cell phones and broadband modems were based on the GSM format so that they could have more flexibility in overseas usage, the technology that most of the rest of the world operates on. Users of non-GSM based wireless products who wish to use their service overseas are either unable (such as EVDO broadband pretty much anywhere but North America) to do so or forced to pay ridiculous roaming fees for the "privilege" of being able to use their phone or internet service that they are already paying for.

We've heard a lot of complaints about this issue, and there are already people wondering if that might change when WiMAX and LTE are debuted. The good news is that WiMAX does not require a physical token like a SIM card. So long as your WiMAX device/internal modem operates on the proper frequency, you could sign up with whatever provider suits your needs on a temporary basis. Unfortunately, it doesn't look as if LTE providers are going to be straying from their SIM-based format as they make the gradual move from 3G to 4G. If you go with LTE, you will remain saddled with the usual 1 or 2-year contract and have to deal with the same pains as always.

Will this prevent people from signing up for LTE when WiMAX is available as an alternative? Or will a SIM-free solution for LTE be developed? There will be some for whom being able to sign up with various providers will be a huge factor, but I'd imagine that the majority of 4G users are going to be more focused on coverage areas and broadband speeds (not to mention bandwidth limits, but let's not go there just yet).

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Anytime a new technology debuts, there are bound to be a few bumps in the road - it's inevitable.

One of the first of such bumps surfaced in Bahrain recently, as it was realized that frequency interferences between WiMAX broadband towers and TV broadcasts are becoming more and more of a problem. The C-band frequency is used for both satellite TV, and many customers are losing service as various providers start installing their WiMAX networks in the area. Television companies have appealed to the government at last year's ITU World Radio Conference to prevent the unrestricted development of WiMAX networks, but to no avail.

What is the fix for such a problem? Are these poor customers forced to choose between television and high-speed internet?


Thursday, September 04, 2008

The WiMAX Forum put out a press release today announcing the introduction of its Interactive Deployment Database, a "comprehensive resource of information featuring more than 300 WiMAX deployments across the world." Essentially, the database functions as a map of sorts, pointing out the areas around the world where development and deployment has taken place. They also put out an interesting series of case studies that take a look at various WiMAX operators and their business models. So far, all of the case studies come from overseas, but as WiMAX becomes available elsewhere they will be updating their database.

Here's a few of the highlights from their "success stories" list:

  • WiMAX in Western Europe is winning market share over DSL and HSPA
  • WiMAX delivers cutting edge services to small and medium size cities in the US
  • WiMAX provides essential broadband services in suburban and rural territories in Spain
  • WiMAX is a key wireless broadband technology in Central and Eastern Europe
  • WiMAX utilizes the strong economy and has a winning business case in Central America
  • WiMAX is achieving success in a highly competitive Eastern European environment
These latest offerings from WiMAX World are some of the more interesting developments we've seen in recent weeks. The map makes it appear that we are getting close to a somewhat widespread network of coverage, with the 2009-2010 rollout projection seemingly right on target!

Take a look at WiMAX World's map
Read the full press release on 4Ginfo.com
Discuss this news on 4G Forums

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

WiMAX is really picking up steam, but remember: there are TWO upcoming 4G broadband technologies.

Intel, who is already one of the biggest investors in WiMAX technology, and news has been released that they have invested an additional $3 million in the startup wireless provider Aicent Inc (based in San Jose, CA). Aicent will use the money to further research both WiMAX and LTE technologies, an interesting tactic we haven't seen from Sprint, Verizon, or Altell. Aicent has announced plans to start rolling out WiMAX in the latter half of next year, but other than their promise to "research" LTE, there doesn't appear to be any info on when - or if - they might be debuting that service.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Another day, another report of WiMAX coverage spreading across the world!

4 major cities in Saudi Arabia are now covered by provider Mobily's "Broadband @ Home" WiMAX service. Unlike what we're used to with Sprint/Verizon et al, Mobily's WiMAX service is offered without a contract on a pre-paid basis, and they are giving away the modems for free during Ramadan!

We've seen a lot of progress in the way of service contracts as WiMAX rolls out around the globe - cheaper monthly pricing, free services - but will US operators like Sprint and Verizon follow suit?

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We've been waiting anxiously for info on the products we'll be using for WiMAX service when it finally becomes available, and today we all get a sneak peek at some of the devices, courtesy of the wonder of the internet and various sites' willingness to link info!

The purported devices include a XOHM phone from Nokia, Samsung SWC-E100 expresscard, ZTE TU25 USB modem, and a ZTE PCMCIA card (why?). Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be Mac support for the devices at this time, but when the devices become available the crew at 4Ginfo.com will work to explore Mac workaround options. Also, no pricing information has been released at this time.

Here's a look at a couple products:

The ZyXel WiMAX mobile router looks very promising - compact and featuring an optional 4-hour battery:

xohm router

Pictures of Nokia's N810 WiMAX phone have also been leaked. It appears to be a slider model with full QWERTY keypad:

xohm phone

Sprint is still being tight-lipped about pricing, from the service to the products. With coverage landing in Baltimore any time now, though, I'd assume we will be hearing soon. Stay tuned.

Discuss Sprint XOHM WiMAX's Leaked Products on 4G Forums

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