Yesterday, Sprint announced the official debut of its first WiMax city, Baltimore, five months and one city behind schedule. Frankly, thatâ''s not a bad show of it. In some respects, the service lives up to Sprintâ''s promises, andâ''in part because of the delayâ''in some ways, exceeds it. And in other ways it falls short.
Iâ''ll get a better sense of whether Xohm is living up to its promise on 10 October; Sprint is having an invitation-only press event in Baltimore that day. My main question will be about the network coverage. Xohm bills itself as a mobile broadband service, with the speed of DSL, and the mobility of your cellphone. But a spot-check of Xohmâ''s coverage map suggests that there are large dead zones, far larger than you would tolerate from your cellphone service provider.
I entered three addresses into the coverage tracker page found here. The first is the home address of a friend who lives in the Fells Point area, down near the Inner Harbor. She would apparently get good coverage in her home and anywhere near her apartment. Sheâ''s an IT manager at the Baltimore Sun, and would, according to the coverage tracker, have terrific coverage in and around her office.
I then entered another address I found on Yahooâ''s people search pageâ''a random person with the same first and last names as my friend. This Baltimore resident doesnâ''t have the same good luck. While she would also apparently have coverage in her home, about half her immediate area does not.
Sprintâ''s coverage is, of course, also missing two cities. As we reported back in January (â''Sprint's Broadband Gambleâ''), the original roadmap for Xohm called for rolling out service to two metro areasâ''Chicago, and Baltimore-Washington, D.C.â''over the course of the first part of 2008, with a soft launch in January and a hard launch in April. This initial rollout is just Baltimore, with Chicago and the D.C. areas relegated to â''Coming Soonâ'' status.
Unfortunately, the delay doesnâ''t seem to have helped Sprint put together a very wide range of devices with which to connect to the nascent network. Looking at the Xohm product page, A ZyXEL-based modem seems to be the only way to get online with a non-Windows-based computer. Youâ''d be tethered to the modem via Ethernet, which, for us laptop users, constitutes mobility only in some highly ironic sense. Thereâ''s no sign of the Motorola modem that I saw demonstrated almost exactly a year ago.
Thereâ''s only one device that gives a laptop connectivity in a truly mobile sense, a Samsung PCMCIA card, and a USB thumb drive, and it only works on Windows-based computers. One nice feature, though, is that according to the spec pages, the â''XOHM Connection Manager automatically switches to the best available network - WiMAX, Wi-Fi and LAN.â'' A USB thumb drive made by ZTE is, like Chicago and D.C., listed as â''Coming Soon.â''
Another Coming Soon device, and maybe the most interesting item on the product page, is a WiMax-enhanced version of Nokiaâ''s N810 tablet. It looks pretty sweet, with enough features and maybe even enough keyboard and screen real estate to get real work done. Itâ''s hard to tell reading through the specs and then Nokiaâ''s own PR-laden product pages, but the initial version will run Nokiaâ''s OS2008, while a later edition might run Googleâ''s Android. Nokia is one of Xohmâ''s four core partners. The others are Intel, Motorola, and Samsung.
Speaking of Google, monthly Xohm accounts include â''One XOHM Mail, Calendar, and Chat account powered by Google.â'' Those are all part of your iGoogle page, if you have one, but perhaps a new iGoogle account is created when you sign up for Xohm. Iâ''ll be asking more about that on 10 October.