Bostonians who rely on telephone and cable TV companies for their high-speed Internet service will soon have a third option. Sometime next month, cellphone carrier Sprint Nextel Corp. will launch the region's first 4G wireless data service, designed to deliver broadband speeds far faster than today's 3G services. The new service, already available in about 50 US cities, can bring the Internet to desktop and laptop computers as well as Sprint's smartphones.

"We should launch sometime during the month of September,'' said Sprint chief executive Dan Hesse during a visit to Boston last week. Sprint's first 4G-compatible smartphone, the EVO 4G, is already sold out at stores throughout the United States; a second phone, the Epic 4G, will go on sale Aug. 31.

Existing 3G services, made popular by the success of Apple Inc.'s iPhone, enable users to visit websites and download music and videos. Although mainly used with smartphones, many laptops also use 3G Internet access. But 3G download speeds are relatively slow, usually around 1.5 million bits per second; that's adequate for reading Web pages, but sluggish for video or gaming. Sprint's 4G network is designed to deliver speeds ranging from 3 million to 6 million bits per second.

The network is being built by Clearwire Corp. of Kirkland, Wash. Sprint owns 54 percent of Clearwire; other major investors include cable TV giant Comcast Corp., chip maker Intel Corp., and Internet search giant Google Corp. Clearwire is expected to activate its Greater Boston network in September and begin marketing its 4G data service under the brand name Clear.

"We're here to set the pace in wireless mobility,'' said Matthew Drinkhahn, Clearwire's general manager in Boston. The Clear mobile service will cost $55 a month, plus $5.99 a month for use of a device for connecting a laptop to the network. Clear will also be marketed to home Internet users as an alternative to broadband service from telephone or cable TV companies for $40 a month, plus $4.99 a month for use of a wireless modem.

Sprint will officially begin offering 4G service sometime after the Clear service launches. But Hesse said that since Sprint and Clear share the same 4G network, owners of 4G-compatible Sprint phones will get 4G access as soon as Clear goes on the air.

Comcast spokeswoman Doreen Vigue said her company will sell Clear "in the coming weeks'' to cable customers who want mobile broadband service.

Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Los Angeles, predicted that few home Internet users would abandon their current service for Clear. "They're not going to be willing to switch absent a significant price difference, which there is not,'' Golvin said, adding that he didn't expect a huge demand for Sprint's 4G service at first because 3G is good enough for most smartphone users.

Still, Golvin said that 3G caught on because of attractive software apps on Apple's iPhone. He predicted a similar surge of interest in 4G if developers write appealing programs that take advantage of the network's greater speed.

Sprint's 4G network should have company soon. Both Verizon Wireless and low-cost carrier MetroPCS plan to launch similar services in Boston before year's end.

Original Source: Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe at