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New wireless network launches in metro area

ATLANTA - Marc Brachman compares it to cell phones.

Connecting to a Wi-Fi hot spot at a Starbucks is like using an old corded phone in your kitchen. Hooking up to Clearwire's new 4G WiMax network, though, gives you the freedom of a cell phone - with a lot more speed than the 3G technology that has satiated the market.

The network, the first WiMax network to come to Atlanta, was launched this week, spreading about 1,200 square miles to reach 3 million people. The network covers much of the metro area, including Lawrenceville.

"We're going to create for the first time, the largest unwired hot spot in Atlanta history," Brachman said during a promotional event last week, where company officials showed off the service, quickly loading Hulu videos while driving through Midtown Atlanta.

"It's connecting the Internet to people instead of places," said Susan Johnston, who is in charge of media relations. "We combine speed and mobility with our service."

Clearwire, which has a store on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth, sells devices to hook up the network, including the CLEAR Spot, a $139 device that allows up to eight standard Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as laptops and video game consoles, to hook up to the Internet, and laptops with WiMax technology embedded in them.

Home Internet plans range from $20 to $40 a month, and mobile plans go up to $50 a month, although a $10 day pass is also available.

The device allows download speeds from 4 to 6 megabits per second, allowing bursts of up to 15 Mbps. WiMax networks have been launched in Portland and Baltimore, and a service in Las Vegas is in the works.

Jeff Kagan, a technology analyst who lives in Marietta, said he was impressed during last week's demonstration.

"We all have a choice to make: how do we connect to the Internet?" he said, explaining that Wi-Fi hot spots aren't as fast and people have to stay in a certain location, while wireless cards give you mobility but not speed.

"It's an amazing service. It's very fast, but on top of being fast, it's portable," he said of Clear, noting the downside that the connection is lost when you travel outside of the metro area. Brachman said the company will launch a dual-mode card this summer that will default to Sprint's 3G network when people leave a network area.

"Ten years ago, you couldn't do all this," Kagan said.