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Baltimore's WiMax Network an Early Winner

BALTIMORE -- Forget about 3G -- that's the past.

It's now time to consider 4G wireless networks, especially the kind announced here on Wednesday.

Sprint (S) and partners Intel (INTC - Get Report), Samsung, Motorola (MOT), Nokia (NOK - Get Report), Nokia Siemens Networks, ZTE and ZyXEL, along with computer makers Acer, Asus, Dell (DELL - Get Report), Lenovo, Panasonic, Sony (SNE - Get Report) and Toshiba, officially inaugurated the world's first 4G network called Xohm (pronounced Zome). It runs on a new technology called WiMax.

The event was self-congratulatory, with a lot of patting each other on the back and saying how amazing it was to get a 4G network up and running before anyone else could.

I'll give them that.

But the companies also admitted that Baltimore, their first rollout city, was not 100% complete. It's more like 75% complete -- with what were termed "bubbles" where the WiMAX signal didn't perform at its best. Xohm Chief Technical Officer Barry West said that was OK, and that they would soon fill in all the holes. He added that Baltimore was chosen first because its layout and the harbors provided a challenge to his engineers. Wait until he tries New York!

After all the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, everyone was allowed to road-test the service -- figuratively and literally. We hopped inside a minivan to get an idea at how well the new 4G service works. We were driven around Baltimore's Inner Harbor while downloading files, watching videos and surfing the Web.

What we saw was very impressive -- we're talking downloads as fast as 5,557 kilobits per second and 1,702 kilobits kbps for uploads. It was even faster in the simulated home-use setup we were shown. Previous rumors had suggested there were indoor reception problems for WiMax.

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