Lenovo, Acer, Asus Give Sprint's WiMax Network A Boost

Computer makers are offering products equipped to connect to Sprint's Xohm high-speed wireless network, launched recently in Baltimore.
Intel, Sprint Nextel, and partners gathered in Baltimore Wednesday to highlight PC makers with products supporting Sprint's recently launched WiMax high-speed wireless network.

The event marked the importance of Sprint's Xohm network to the future of WiMax in the United States, a technology that Intel and its allies have been developing for six years. Baltimore last month became the first U.S. city to get a version of WiMax that provides wireless Internet access to home users and to people traveling about town with notebooks equipped with special modems. The network offers speeds comparable to wired broadband services.

In trying to keep the momentum for Xohm going, Sprint and Intel announced that people could order WiMax-enabled notebooks from Lenovo, Asus, and Acer on had an Asus WiMax notebook available as of Wednesday. Toshiba also was on tap to offer WiMax-supported notebooks this year, and Dell, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony planned to ship such laptops starting in 2009.

A search on Amazon found WiMax connectivity available with the Asus M50Vm, the Acer Aspire 6930 and 4930, and the Lenovo ThinkPad SL300 and SL500, which are made for small and medium-sized businesses.

Lenovo, which is moving aggressively in the WiMax market, also is offering the ThinkPad X301 ultraportable and the T400, a mainstream business machine, with WiMax support. All of Lenovo's WiMax machines are available through its Web site. Later in the year, Lenovo will expand its offerings with built-in WiMax on the ThinkPad W500, W700, SL400, T400, and X200. For consumers, Lenovo will offer the IdeaPad Y530.

Intel has embedded WiMax technology within its Centrino 2 notebook platform. Computer makers offer support through the purchase of a special modem card. Lenovo offers WiMax for an extra $60.

Sprint launched its long-delayed WiMax network in Baltimore on Sept. 29. The company plans to roll out the network gradually, with Washington, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Providence, R.I., and Philadelphia slated to be among the early deployments. In Baltimore, the service costs $10 for a daily pass, $25 a month for a home plan, and $30 a month for accessing the network from anywhere in the coverage area. Sprint said average download speeds are between 2 Mbps and 4 Mbps.

Sprint's Xohm unit is scheduled to merge by the end of the year with WiMax service provider Clearwire to work together in offering service nationwide. The two companies, however, will face stiff competition from cellular network providers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, as well as cable and telephone companies offering wired broadband for the home.

While computer makers' support for WiMax is important, it's only one of several hurdles faced by supporters. The most obvious is access. WiMax networks will have to spread quickly to attract subscribers. People are unlikely to buy into the service if it can't be used outside of a city. Wireless carriers' high-speed data networks do not have the same geographic limits.

Nevertheless, the possibilities of WiMax are attractive enough to prompt Intel, Google, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks to promise a total of $3.2 billion to the Sprint-Clearwire partnership. For computer makers, anywhere, anytime Web access for consumers is likely to drive sales of not just notebooks, but other types of Internet-connected hardware.

While Lenovo believes WiMax has a good chance of success, the computer maker is ready to support any winning wireless technology. "We're not placing bets on one technology succeeding over the other," David Critchley, worldwide marketing manager of ThinkPads, told InformationWeek.