The question about how WiMax provider Clearwire would answer the national-roaming question
got a little bit clearer Wednesday, when Sprint officially announced its long-promised 3G/4G hybrid device
, a USB dongle that lets a laptop user connect to both Clearwire's WiMax and Sprint's 3G cellular networks.
For right now, that former option means one city -- Baltimore -- where the service previously known as Xohm has been running since September. But Todd Rowley, vice president of Sprint's 4G business unit, told us Wednesday that the new device will work in all the networks being readied by the new Clearwire, starting with Portland, Ore., sometime "by the end of Q1."
Without getting too much into specifics, it isn't the technology holding the card back but Sprint's back-end ability to support it on the "Clear" networks -- like Portland's, whi
ch is set to publicly launch Jan. 6
. So yes, Rowley said, the device will eventually allow roaming users to link up with Clear WiMax networks wherever they may be launched, maybe not right when they launch but soon after.
In terms of value, the hybrid device is kind of a hybrid offering -- it's not as cheap as the straight-WiMax
offerings and it comes with the standard (for cellular data) two-year contract and early termination fees. You also can't use the 3G service for VoIP calls (and it ha
s bandwidth restrictions), though Skype over the 4G service should work just fine, Rowley said. And while the price -- $80 a month, plus $150 for the device -- is steeper than some 3G-only plans, it's still cheaper than a typical bun
dle of landline broadband and mobile broadband, making it perhaps a smart deal for someone who needs mobility past the Baltimore WiMax coverage zones.
The value of the device, of course, will increase as more Clearwire networks launch, giving users more places to roam and use the more-compelling 4G part of the connection. But until then, they'll at least have Sprint's 3G service as a fallback, which isn't too bad according to some recent reviews of 3G services