Sprint launched its WiMAX service, "XOHM," in its first public market earlier this week. Customers in Baltimore, MD can now sign up for daily and/or monthly mobile broadband service thanks to the US' first commercial deployment of next-gen wireless internet service, and Sprint's going to be rolling out XOHM (which operates on the 802.16e standard, in case you were curious) next in Chicago, Washington DC, Providence, RI, Boston, and Dallas.
I'm really excited about XOHM and "4G" mobile broadband services like WiMax and LTE, in general. Combined with the advent of open platforms like Nokia's S60 and Google's Android and promises of open networks from the likes of Verizon Wireless here in the States, services like XOHM could really help make good on the promise of catch phrases like, "Internet Anywhere" and "Cloud Computing."
For the uninitiated, think of WiMAX as a sort of step forward from the cellular data services that currently bring Web and Email to smartphones. The service promises much faster speeds than cellular data, and could conceivably replace both cellular data plans (EV-DO and HSDPA) and home broadband connections (DSL and Cable Modem) once its up to snuff. Based on XOHM's pricing and promises, the potential is huge for everyone from students to small business owners to road warriors and virtual telecommuters like me.
XOHM's allure is always on Net connectivity at a reasonable price with speeds more like Cable modem than cellular. XOHM currently offers four service plans: $35/mo for home-only access, $45/mo for mobile access, $65/mo for two-device access (home and mobile modems), and $10/day for a 24 hour pass. XOHM is currently offering promotional prices on all three monthly services, including $50/mo for life special on the two-device setup, and you'll have to pony up another $60 for an ExpressCard modem for your Windows laptop (Mac is not supported) or $80 for a home modem that can be connected to a WiFi router. More modems and a few dedicated devices - including the Nokia N810 WiMax Edition tablet computer - are coming soon.
For someone like me who pays for my own Net access at home, at my office, and on the go, XOHM could be a dream come true. $50/month for two device service would save me about $50 each month: With a home modem I could hook up to a WiFi router and a modem for my laptop, my wife and I could share service in the house (as we currently do with our cable modem) and I could have laptop access on the go and at my office (where I pay for a share of another cable modem account). I carry my laptop from home to the office and back each day, anyway, so having a XOHM account tethered to my laptop would be just fine.
XOHM wouldn't do anything about my cellular data expenses, but I'm only spending six bucks each month for T-Mobile's T-Zones plan right now, anyway. Cellular access for my laptop is still too expensive for how little I'd probably use it. But a DSL-class connection like the one XOHM promises could work for me both at the office and when, every so often, I'm on the road.
PC Magazine's Sascha Seagan posted an early review of XOHM this morning, and his hands-on trial of the service in Baltimore speaks more to me than any marketing material could. Seagan writes about both the huge potential of XOHM and the drawbacks of a new network technology that faces two major hurdles to its stated goal of becoming a mainstream alternative to cellular and DSL/Cable Modem broadband: network coverage and inconsistent speeds.
"When XOHM worked well, I could do things I'd never before dreamed of doing over a cellular connection," Seagan writes. "A 720p movie trailer streamed along for more than a minute before needing to buffer again. In essence, it was a big, fat pipe heading into my laptop."
Segan goes on to say that "XOHM mopped the floor with existing cellular networks ... With a strong signal, I saw download speeds averaging 3.6Mbps, with my fastest test at a blazing 7.1Mbps. That's faster than my home cable connection! "Good" upload speeds varied from 416Kbps on up to a really impressive 2.1Mbps." On average, he got 2.3Mbps down and 915Kbps up from XOHM in Baltimore, which is within the advertised range of 2-4Mbps down and 500-1500Kbps up. By comparison, Seagan got around 700-900Kbps with a peak of 1.9Mbps for downloads on Verizon Wireless' EV-DO network.
The two problems with XOHM in this test were consistency and latency when compared to DSL or Cable-based WiFi connections. While XOHM bested EV-DO pretty much across the board, it was either better, worse, or on par with WiFi depending on when and where Seagan was testing. "7Mbps (download speed) in one place, 2Mbps in another," he wrote. "And XOHM's upload speeds are slower than high-end wired solutions."
The article goes into much more detail and is definitely worth a read if you're interested in early tests of XOHM. Me, I'm waiting for the service to come to the San Francisco Bay Area so I can try it for myself. I've long been tempted to give up my home and office cable modems in favor of an EV-DO data plan (in the name of saving money), but the speeds just aren't there yet. XOHM - and other forms of WiMax and, come 2010, LTE - carries the promise of wireless broadband that's fast enough to replace the wires of Cable and DSL for most consumer and small business use cases.
As someone who currently pays Comcast twice to use the same service in two different locations, I can't wait to trade two bills for one even if it means carrying a laptop modem around. XOHM should be rolling out in those next five markets pretty soon. I sure hope my neck of the woods is on deck for the batch after that. More importantly, though, I hope the service catches on quickly enough to make it worth XOHM's while to do what they need to do to develop a robust, stable WiMax network that makes good on those promises of fast, affordable connectivity that doesn't keep us tethered to DSL or Cable wires. Now that would be something.