West: Xohm breaks the mold

There are about 6000 people at WiMAX World in Chicago this week, but only one star, and his name is Barry West. The CTO and head of the Xohm unit at Sprint Nextel is easy to spot here, whether surfing the Internet with media and analysts on a Motorola boat cruise on the Chicago River, delivering a keynote speech, serving on an executive roundtable or hustling through the throngs to his next engagement.

Within the last 13 months, West has become the chief promoter for a WiMAX ecosystem that had been in need of a carrier spokesman prepared only to look ahead, and never behind. West is that and then some, as he took every opportunity at the show Wednesday to talk about how Sprint’s planned Xohm WiMAX service and the carrier’s ecosystem of vendors are will leave old cellular technology and business models—not to mention telco broadband models--in the dust.

West confirmed this week that Xohm will launch in soft mode in Chicago and in the Washington, DC/Baltimore area at the end of this year, followed by the commercial rollout by April 2008. “We’re getting ready for a new era in telecommunications,” he said, which is what so many trade show talk heads say, but West outlined a model for Xohm breaks new ground by dismantling the walled garden content approach, puts an end to traditional wireless device subsidies and eschews long-term contracts.

“We’re encouraging our device partners to come into the market under their own brands,” he said adding that customers will be able to buy devices at major retail outlets that can be activated and programmed with services without Sprint’s help before they make their first run on the Xohm network. West also said Xohm will make an effort to coordinate with location-based services, including advertising, to create a localized portal and search experience.

The early years of WiMAX deployment often have required network equipment makers to also feed the user market by manufacturing their own CPE, but announcements this week from Nokia about new WiMAX-enabled tablet devices and from Motorola about plans for new PC cards, USB devices and handsets seem to back up West’s assertion that the time is right to let go of devices subsidies. Now, all the budding WiMAX industry needs to do is make sure those devices get sold.

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