The World According to Barry
Sitting in his office at Sprint's 4G headquarters just outside of Washington, D.C., West is wrapping up some loose ends before he departs. Dressed in jeans and a button-down Oxford shirt and drinking a never-ending stream of Starbucks venti soy lattes, West holds a conference call with Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff, his future boss, and meets with some senior members of his staff. But he admits there is little left for him to do. The base stations are deployed; the launch devices are certified. His engineers and technicians don't need him peeping over their shoulders as they make the final network tweaks. Operations has the Xohm provisioning portal ready, sales has the retail channels prepped, and marketing has materials made, all the way down to the Xohm golf shirts everyone is wearing.
“There's nothing more I can do,” West said. “I could sit here and just glory in it, I suppose, but there's literally nothing else I can do. … At some point, you have to make a leap of faith.”
A week after launch, Sprint held an unveiling event, at which West delivered his customary speech and lauded the momentousness of the occasion. Launching that single network is a significant milestone for Sprint, but West acknowledges it is only the beginning. Xohm has moved from two years of intense planning and development to its deployment phase, where execution will be critical. Baltimore is just one of many pieces that have to fit together perfectly for this grand adventure in WiMAX to work, West said. Although networks in Chicago and Washington, D.C., are planned for launch this year, the puzzle won't truly come together until 2010, when Xohm's nationwide launch is in full swing. That will require regulators' approval of Xohm's merger with Clearwire. The new Clearwire will require billions of dollars of new funding, as well as the cooperation of dozens of disparate companies. And West has to convince the rest of the world to do it, too. Ultimately, if Clearwire is the lone mobile WiMAX stalwart in the world of 4G, the puzzle will be missing its most crucial pieces.
“This is by far the most complex thing I've ever done,” West said. “The challenge is enormous, but I believe we're up to it. We have to acknowledge we're two years ahead of the competition. That's an enormous advantage, and we'll be able to leverage it.”
Xohm's official date of conception is considered to be Aug. 8, 2006, when Sprint announced it would use WiMAX to populate its long-dormant 2.5 GHz frequencies. But Xohm's origins can be traced back to 2002, when West was searching for Nextel's new network technology.
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