Blog Post

Sprint's Xohm Network is Only Half Open

Today marks the formal launch of Sprint’s Xohm network, and celebrants are gathered in Baltimore to show off their new WiMAX-enabled gadgets. But after chatting with an executive from Lenovo, I wonder just how open Sprint’s network will be, and how that lack of true openness might slow the adoption of WiMAX.

Lenovo is on hand showing of its five laptops designed for Sprint’s WiMAX network, including the super-sleek x300 that competes with the MacBook Air. David Critchley, worldwide segment manager with Lenovo, said the x300 was supposed to launch last spring with WiMAX inside, but Sprint’s delays nixed that plan. Critchley expected that Lenovo would have the most WiMAX enabled products ready to launch today, in part because it had been preparing for WiMAX for so long, enabling it to get hardware ready in time for testing. He called Sprint’s testing pipeline “narrow,” and expected others to only have one or two devices ready for launch.

Wait. Testing? This is supposed to be an open network ready for any device. Now I’m worried that Sprint’s approval process will keep WiMAX from becoming as popular as Wi-Fi. Isn’t that how Verizon is supposedly going to keep its network from becoming entirely open? Maybe it’s the difference in operating on unlicensed spectrum as Wi-Fi does, or licensed as WiMAX does, but getting as many devices as possible on the network will be key for WiMAX success.

A bottleneck caused by Sprint’s testing isn’t going to help grow the number of gadgets and consumer awareness rapidly. As an executive over at Motorola told me, WiMAX is likely to win out when (a) it’s seamless and easy for consumers to access and (b) carriers make it easy for WiMAX devices to hop on and off their networks. An approval process makes both less likely, especially if it moves slowly.

17 Responses to “Sprint's Xohm Network is Only Half Open”

  1. Stacey Higginbotham

    I’m not trying to trash Sprint or Xohm. I’m just tired of everyone getting behind open this and open that, when in truth it’s not open. In this case, I want WiMAX to achieve what Wi-Fi did and see a lengthy certification process as a huge hurdle to that happening.

  2. First CNet, then Network World, now GigaOm. Trashing WiMAX has become the sport du jour…Sprint needs to make sure everything works just right, due in part to some of the not-so-subtle whisper campaigning going on about the tech.

    I am starting to get a headache. Can’t anyone say anything nice about the U.S. WiMAX rollout?

    Like “Gee, what progressive pricing plans?” or “Man, they’ll have 20 laptops(SKUs) embedded with WiMAX chipsets by the end of the year in XOHM/Clearwire markets and available down at Best Buy. How many CDMA & HSPA-embedded laptops can you pick up at the Big Box store and how much of a price premium are you paying for an embedded chipset?”

  3. a recipe for success will be if sprint really focus’s on universal laptop anywhere usage within the coverage areas. i see this a a much bigger market than the handheld data part. the reason is that laptop use of broadband wireless will result in the ability of user to compensate for the cost by canceling there cable/DSL lines. in the medium to long term this will be huge. i see very few consumer wired broadband links existing 10 years from now.

  4. I’ll take a half open network to a closed network. Deploying a new WiMAX network is a huge ecosystem endeavor. It’s an evolving process for everyone involved. As long as we’re on the topic of open networks, from a consumer perspective, the XOHM data plans seem a lot more open than 3G plans. No contracts, month-to-month subscriptions, one-day passes, etc.

  5. Wi-Fi is fairly mature now, and the Wi-Fi alliance handles certification. In a perfect or more mature world the reference designs, etc., at the WiMax Forum would work well enough to alleviate the need for Sprint to test devices. There is also no guarantee on Wi-Fi networks that A) your device will work or B) the operator cares too much whether it does or not. Where is network support at Starbucks?

    As a DSL/cable replacement or mobile service Xohm needs a higher level of assurance, especially right out of the gate. From all the reporting I have done it still seems like there are more devices available sooner than any other wireless technology at launch. Seems like using the experience of one vendor (Lenovo) isn’t a very thorough take on how the testing processes are going.

  6. Jesse Kopelman

    I’ve said it before: carriers care about control more than profit. That’s why they continually shoot themselves in the feet over things like this. This why more unlicensed spectrum is essentially to move wireless broadband forward.

  7. @PAul and @Dan…

    Device testing is okay for proprietary networks, not so much for open networks. how many people test WiFi devices with all networks. That said, even if Sprint needs it to get done, they need to make sure that the testing process is faster than what the Lenovo guy is hinting at.

  8. I agree with Paul here. Not like Lenovo or any computer companies have sold WiMax computers in the U.S. before. Testing is the only smart idea until this stuff is widespread. And not like Xohm’s long-term success or failure will be based on its first year of service in a tiny handful of markets, no matter how many/few devices exist.

  9. It doesn’t make much sense to launch a big network without doing some device testing — imagine the headlines in the other direction, “Sprint fails to make sure devices work,” etc., etc. From the looks of it Xohm in particular and WiMax in general seems way more open than any previous offering — how many 3G devices were available at launch? How many can you buy that aren’t from the operator? In my interviews with Lenovo what I heard was that the WiMax process was far easier to implement than embedded 3G. If that’s “half open” at least it’s on the way to filling the glass rather than keeping it half-full, right?