The much heralded, long-awaited mobile WiMAX network from Sprint Nextel got an official unveiling Tuesday night with a VoIP-on-the-handset application, on a boat floating serenely down the Chicago River. Later, Xohm chief Barry West gave the industry a few more details as to what we can expect when the service goes commercial next year, emphasizing that there will be an open access approach when it comes to devices and applications.
Timed with WiMAX World USA, the boat demonstration involved seamless handoffs between six different nodes on a Motorola Inc.-built network.
Using a variety of devices, like Motorolas trial WiMAX mobile handset and laptops with Motorola WiMAX PC cards, the companies showed continuous VoIP calling on a handset, along with Web browsing, video streaming and MobiTV, all while moving past access point sites along the route of the cruise.
We tackled one of the most challenging environments a river lined with tall buildings, 30 feet below street level, and crossed by numerous steel bridges to bring this WiMAX experience to life, said Fred Wright, Motorolas senior vice president of home and networks mobility.
West further hit the point home that mobile WiMAX is really happening during his keynote at the WiMAX World conference, where he confirmed that Xohm pre-commercial service will launch in Chicago by the end of the year, with commercial service planned in that and other markets beginning April 2008.
We are on the verge of a new era in telecommunications, he said, noting that the first commercial cellular call was placed in Chicago a quarter century ago. If you make wireless broadband available reliably everywhere, and make it affordable, we will see the same explosion weve seen in wireless voice.
He went on to explain the business case for Xohm, saying the model turns the traditional wireless approach on its head. Device subsidies have destroyed the value of the device in the minds of the consumer, he said. [Because of the subsidies], to make the model work requires a one- or two-year commitment [to ensure ROI]. But you just want a phone, you dont want to make friends with the salesman. Xohm, he said, will change the paradigm by eliminating subsidies and creating an open environment where any WiMAX-certified device can connect to the network.
You will buy a device, pay full freight on it, then activate it at home, he explained. Much like Wi-Fi, users can prepay for a day, a week or a month, or sign a two-year contract in exchange for a cheaper rate. The important point, he says, is the explosion of consumer electronics devices that will arise from the new model; he said that Xohm ecosystem partners like Samsung, Motorola and Nokia have pledged to embed WiMAX chipsets into 50 million devices and that the vendors will be able to market those devices on their own, outside the purview of Sprint.
All this means that it will be possible to have multiple devices, he explained. Youll have a rate that applies to you, the person, instead of to each specific device. And if you want to upgrade, do it without penalty. In a traditional wireless scheme you have a real problem [recouping the investment] when a subscriber upgrades.
Xohm, he added, will be synonymous with the mobile Internet, supporting third-party applications from VoIP to IP video. He referenced Sprints partnership with Google Inc. as evidence of Sprints open-access commitment.
The coming availability of such wireless broadband ubiquity will have repercussions on a wide range of applications for service providers, according to Nokia Siemens Networks new head of North America, Sue Spradley. We traditionally think of VoIP as a landline service, but theres no reason at all that doesnt port to wireless, she said. Two years ago we wouldnt have thought wed see [commercial mobile WiMAX], but here it is. You cant look in the rearview, but instead need to face forward. Its an exciting time.