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Sprint modem straddles 3G, WiMAX

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Sprint has unveiled a wireless modem capable of jumping between its old-school CDMA cell network and the fledgling 4G WiMAX network it recently launched in Baltimore, Maryland.

"Sprint intends to be the leader in 4G and bring the wireless Internet to life," reads a canned statement from CEO/TV pitchman Dan Hesse. "This first-of-its-kind device allows our customers to take the Internet with them essentially wherever they go by gaining enhanced speed and capability in 4G markets and the nationwide coverage of our 3G network across the rest of the country."

The struggling US wireless carrier says the USB Modem U300 will hit Baltimore stores this Sunday, December 21. Manufactured by Franklin Wireless, the device will be priced at $150 - though a $50 mail-in rebate is available. Buyers must agree to sell their wireless soul to Sprint for two years.

For $79.99 a month, those who enter this Faustian bargain are afforded access to both the 4G and the 3G networks. In theory, the device looks for each, then attaches to the fastest available option.

Beginning Sunday, the USB device will be available from Baltimore-area Sprint stores and certain other local retailers. Baltimore Best Buys will begin offering the modem in January.

In the past, Sprint insisted on calling its WiMAX network "Xohm." But it has agreed to merge the network with a similar operation from the Washington State-based startup Clearwire, forming a new company also called Clearwire, and the combined network will be known as "Clear."

The new Clearwire plans to extend 4G service to Portland, Oregon in January. ®

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