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Sprint and Samsung today declared Mobile WiMax ready for commercial service. Sprint plans on launching commercial WiMax in Washington and Baltimore “later this year”.

Washington and Baltimore joined Chicago in a “soft rollout”, in which Sprint workers use and test the technology, a Sprint spokesman said last week. A Clearwire Mobile WiMax rollout is also planned, likely later this summer, in Portland, Oregon.

Despite today’s announcement about Washington and Baltimore, no commercial rollout projection for Chicago was mentioned. When asked about Chicago, a Sprint spokesman said “there will be further progress to report at another time.”

It’s a Motorola party in Chicago and Portland.

Sprint and Samsung said testing of overall performance, including successful wireless handoffs between cell towers without delay, had met Sprint’s “rigorous commercial acceptance criteria.” Testing was conducted in laboratories, as well as in the Baltimore-Washington area, the companies said.

Samsung has been working with Sprint since June 2007. There were lab tests, followed by field tests in October and then interoperability tests with “multiple” other device vendors in April.

Those devices included a Nokia’s WiMax tablet, a Samsung WiMax express card for laptops and a Zyxel WiMax modem. Intel has been developing chip sets for use in laptops and ultramobile PCs.

Clearwire is planning to move onto Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Grand Rapids, Mich., with mobile WiMax deployments after it launches in Portland, Ore., in the second half of this year, the company said during its first quarter earnings call this week. Clearwire ended the first quarter of 2008 with 443,000 users, up 72 percent on the previous year’s first quarter.

Maravedis forecasts WiMAX subscribers to exceed 100 million by 2014.

Meanwhile, there are more than 45 million cellular-based HSPA users worldwide, delivering consistent data rates in the range of 500 kbit/s to 1.5 Mbit/s, reports Unstrung. The GSM family will account for fully 89% of the global market in 2011, according to Gartner Inc. In the U.S., AT&T is a GSM provider, along with T-Mobile, which many believe will eventually announce intentions to support LTE and has launched AWS service in New York City.

Alltel has committed to LTE but any significant network upgrades are still three to five years out, the company said today. The No. 5 carrier has just over 13 million customers. Alltel is the second major CDMA carrier (after Verizon Wireless) to switch tracks and select LTE. Sprint, of course, is going the Mobile WiMAX route (and may get a 3-5 year lead over the competition).

Late to the party, AT&T and Verizon had to pay a premium for their spectrum, will wait years for LTE infrastructure, and could be left with scraps for their microwave backhaul.

It’s what I call the elephant in the room that nobody talks about,” explained Clearwire CTO John Saw, to Unstrung. “The backhaul is probably the highest cost of deploying the network… Anyone who wants to roll out a real wireless broadband network nationwide needs a cheaper solution.”

Dan Jones of Unstrung has compiled Ten Reasons to Love Sprint.

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