San Francisco’s Wait for WiMAX May Soon Be Over

Sprint (s S) and Clearwire’s (s clwr) 4G WiMAX network has rolled out in dozens of cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle and Portland. Now the network is in testing in various neighborhoods in San Francisco and should be up in the coming months, just as Sprint and Clearwire promised.

I was able to access the 4G network for the first time today in downtown San Francisco on my HTC EVO, and got a solid 3 megabits per second down though only 80 kilobits per second up. Sprint is promising 3-6 megabits per second for downloads and 1 Mbps up. However, some people are already hitting speeds well above that.

The spread of WiMAX to bigger cities, like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, is important for Sprint and Clearwire in order to show more people what WiMAX can really do. It’s one thing to talk about cable-modem-like speeds, but when consumers get their hands on it, that’s when they really start to understand the possibilities of fast mobile broadband. It also keeps Sprint ahead of competitors like Verizon Wireless (s vz), which plans on rolling out LTE in 30 “football cities” this year.

Clearwire and Sprint have touted the depth of the WiMAX spectrum and how it should give them an advantage over other 4G networks. Clearwire, however, has been testing LTE and could make a switch at some point. This expansion will be  a great demonstration of the next generation of fast mobile broadband, especially in a smartphone-loving city like San Francisco that’s proven to be tough on some mobile networks.

It’s also going to be good for local developers who may not have gotten a chance to test out WiMAX and get a feel for the next generation of fast mobile broadband. Sprint’s previous closest deployment was in California locales like Modesto, Stockton and Merced. It’ll be interesting to see how developers use the added speed boost, and what applications emerge. At the very least, it’s nice for Sprint EVO and Epic users like myself, who’ve been paying an additional $10 per month for 4G access without the benefit of actual 4G access.

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