Mobile broadband hits the air

Talking up WiMax is one thing; building a commercial-grade network that can support millions of users is quite another. In Baltimore, work has been ongoing for two long years. So far, Sprint says, it has upgraded only about 170 of the 400 local cell sites.

There are the usual headaches — zoning permits, local ordinances and the like. And unusual ones, too. Crews discovered that cellphone towers provide an ideal nesting environment for ospreys, a hunting bird common in these parts. In keeping with U.S. Fish and Wildlife guidelines, crews take care to not disturb the nests. "We just have to wait them out," says Gary Smith, a local Sprint field supervisor.

Mellon, who's been testing the network here for weeks, is betting all the hard work will pay off.

"It's a good product," he says, steadying the laptop as colleague Eliana Castro steers the Sprint minivan around another corner. "We've thrown just about everything we can think of at it, and we know it works; we see how it works." He quickly adds: "We're just hoping other people see the same thing we do."

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