Interview: XOHM and Rick Robinson, VP of Product and Services

Sprint, the number three U.S. wireless carrier, has formed a new company called XOHM. Recently they announced a merger with ClearWire, the main WiMax service provider in the United States.

WiMax will be a major leap forward when the network is finally rolled out. If you’re unaware of WiMax, think of being able to access the Internet at Wi-Fi speeds, except over a network that spans miles from the tower, similar to cellular phones do now. WiMax is a high-speed data network that is much faster than today’s 3G network and will give mobile devices a new classification of mobile speed and reliability.

Currently ClearWire provides WiMax service in a few geographies, but the combined XOHM/ClearWire network will be prevalent in many more areas. XOHM is set to launch in Baltimore in a matter of weeks with other East Coast cities soon following.

At last week’s Mobilize ‘08 conference, I sat down with Rick and asked him about XOHM, WiMax, and how XOHM plans to operate their network.

The interview follows:

JH: What is XOHM focused on?

RR: We are currently focused on laptops, personal media players, and ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) primarily. We’re launching in Baltimore this month and the Nokia N810 WiMax device will shortly follow.

WiMax will mean, in essence, ‘a hotspot the size of a city’ so no longer will you be locked to, say, a coffee shop to do broadband computing… in the case of home modems you will have sort of a roaming hotspot where the XOHM modem will receive a WiMax broadband signal and using a WiFi router will be accessible to any device that speaks 802.11.

You can move the modem around, for example, you can take it another location and merely plug it in. We’ll have PCMCIA cards and USB modems as well. Eventually, handsets will be in the mix.

XOHM is trying to build a platform that will enable application developers and companies to think in this new paradigm of connectivity that WiMax represents. In 1-5 years, who knows what a ‘phone’ will be? What use cases will come about from having a broadly reaching wireless capability?

JH: What is the relationship between XOHM and ClearWire?

RR: Pending regulatory approval, we’re going to form a new company with investments from many companies (including Intel, Google, Comcast, and more). It will be a standalone company based in Kirkland, WA. We’ll have to figure out over the next few months how we marry the two current companies as there are organizational overlaps to overcome.

Luckily our spectrum holdings are complementary, so merging the network won’t be as complex.

JH What is the rollout schedule for XOHM?

RR: Later this month we will launch in Baltimore. Soon following will be Washington, DC, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The idea is to get it in a few key cities this year, then have dramatic growth next year.

JH: Yesterday, Nokia announced the possibility to having 3G in their tablet, how would XOHM view this development?

3G can be a nice complement to WiMax connectivity for dual-mode operation, obviously. In that situation if it were to happen, when you don’t have WiMax coverage, you bump down to 3G where it’s available. But I cannot speak specifically to the Nokia device.

JH: How does cable operator involvement impact XOHM? Where do the complimentary factors lie?

RR: They can take the shape of an MVNO for our services, possibly re-branded. Cable operators want to utilize our quality network to compliment their wired services.

JH: I’ve looked at ClearWire prices, and they don’t seem that competitive. Will XOHM pricing be better?

Yes, it will. The pricing for XOHM will be released very soon, but it will be very competitive. We realize that with the economy being the way it is, people will have to make decisions on which services they have in their home and we want to price XOHM to be attractive to the general public.

XOHM will not have contracts or early termination fees. We’ll have daily and weekly passes. ClearWire is currently built on the traditional telecom model (meaning they require service contracts and purchase your own equipment to utilize the network), and XOHM is trying to establish a new model.

JH: Would you lock out services? For example, would you only allow Comcast Voice service on XOHM, locking out competitive services such as Skype or Vonage?

RR: No. We will remain open and won’t lock out services. We want to remain customer focused so we’ll remain as open as possible.

We won’t block protocols or services and will not take a position where we are capping bandwidth for our users.

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