Kindle: An ember of Sprint's WiMAX dream?

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Kindle: An ember of Sprint's WiMAX dream?

This week Sprint gave us a glimpse of its future WiMAX plans--should they come to fruition--when it teamed with Amazon.com to launch an EV-DO-equipped eBook device. The connected gadget is called the Kindle, and it relies on Sprint's EV-DO network for over-the-air (OTA) downloads of eBooks. The Kindle Store will initially offer more than 90,000 books, including nearly all of the current New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases, for $9.99. Monthly newspaper subscriptions cost anywhere from $5.99 to $14.99 per month and magazines are priced at anywhere from $1.25 to $3.49 per month.

The business model that the Kindle brings to market is similar to the ones Sprint has been giving as examples for its planned WiMAX network.

The Kindle is a consumer electronic device that needs to connect to a data network, but only from time to time, like when a user wants to shop for or download a book. When laying out its WiMAX plans, Sprint has consistently envisioned a future where devices like the Kindle would connect to the WiMAX network as needed. Users will have an account with Sprint that works across their WiMAX-enabled devices and businesses could subsidize the networking costs through the services they provide. That latter business model is the one in effect for the Kindle. Amazon.com charges users $9.99 per book download, a price that includes the cost of accessing Sprint's EV-DO network.

Earlier this year, Sprint told analysts that by 2010 its planned WiMAX service, called Xohm will cover 125 million people and could connect up to 130 million "consumer electronic devices." (The carrier has not updated those figures since news of its failed JV with Clearwire hit, but those metrics were supposed to preclude Clearwire's contributions.) Sprint has long used the term "consumer electronics devices" instead of handsets when describing the devices that will connect to Xohm. 

Chief Xohm evangelist and Sprint CTO Barry West has envisioned Xohm as an "all-you-can-eat" broadband access alternative that follows the Internet model, and not the cellular model. So Amazon.com's Kindle seems to be a perfect fit. Or does it? West characterized EV-DO and HSPA networks as providing a "reasonable experience" while WiMAX will offer a cheaper and faster one. At $9.99 a book the Kindle seems far from outrageous on the price front, and neither Amazon nor Sprint have provided estimated book download times.

If an open access business model will exist for Xohm--should it come to fruition--what devices will require a WiMAX hook-up? I can't imagine an eBook driving adoption of connected consumer electronics, even one with realistic ink properties. My books are already "mobile" enough. Many would agree that the most compelling consumer electronic device in need of a data hook-up is the digital camera, but mobile phone cameras are quickly encroaching on that gadget's value proposition, too. So network build-out problems aside, what devices do you think will run on Sprint's WiMAX network? Will Kindle or a similar device be the driver of this supposed trend? I'd like to hear your take. -Brian

P.S. FierceWireless is taking a holiday for Thanksgiving and will be back on Monday. Have a great long weekend and enjoy the turkey!