Sprint WiMAX misses Chicago launch, now aiming for 2H 2009

As WiMAX continues to dwell in Baltimore with a stunning lack of extended interest or supported devices, Sprint’s golden boy has failed to make an appearance as scheduled in Chicago. Sprint’s goal of launching WiMAX in Chicago by year-end 2008 seemed perfectly attainable; the network infrastructure was in place with time to spare and tech media is apparently still eager to give WiMAX, the next generation of wireless, plenty of coverage. Hitting a major metropolitan market like Chicago would have been a huge coup for Sprint and timing at the end of 2008 would have made big news as the carrier attempts to reverse recent business trends moving into 2009. Instead, Sprint is now expected to announce WiMAX availability in Portland, Oregon at CES this week. While Portland is certainly a sizable market in the Northwest region, it is hardly the bustling hub that is Chicago. Initially launching the service in Baltimore made sense as it was a perfect test market – urban setting, a diverse range of structures and plenty of need for high-speed wireless service. Sprint however, does not have the luxury of time. The company needs to see its massive WiMAX investment begin bear fruit today, not in five or 10 years. While Baltimore and Portland might be viewed as a good start by some, sizable businesses will be highly unlikely to make any kind of long-term commitment to WiMAX at this point – speeds and cost are hardly comparable with land-based options and for employees on the go, coverage in two US cities certainly doesn’t make for a sensible wireless data option at this point. As far as home usage is concerned, it’s still hard to sell an unproven wireless technology with a 4 or 5 megabit ceiling to regions where 12 to 15 megabit cable connections can be had for around $30 per month.

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