Sprint has announced it will be the first provider to offer WiMAX service. According to CEO Dan Hesse, speaking at his NXTcomm08 keynote, Baltimore will be the lucky winner for first deployment rights, going live in September. Chicago and Washington, D.C, having been “soft-launched” earlier this year, will follow in Q4.

On a separate occasion, Sprint Nextel CTO and president of the company’s Xohm WiMAX business Barry West said that more than 575 WiMAX base station sites are already operational, with a number of devices progressing quickly through the testing process.

Though Sprint originally planned to launch service back in April, the rollout fell behind schedule due to problems with provisioning backhaul. Another spokesman, speaking on a separate occasion, claims Sprint has solved the problem by using fiber-optic and microwave links.

Customers can choose from an initial selection of devices Samsung card, a ZyXEL modem, a ZTE USB dongle and the Nokia N810 Internet tablet as well as with WiMAX embedded laptops.

How does Clearwire, the national mobile WiMAX network coalition effort led by Sprint along with cable players Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Google and Intel, fit into this? There’s a chance service will be available in Baltimore before the Clearwire deal closes sometime this year. In that case, Sprint will offer the service under the Xohm brand name for its WiMAX service. Sprint holds about a 50 percent stake in the emerging network.

For now, Sprint is promising an introductory WiMAX rate between 3 to 6 Mbps downstream — Clearwire has pointed to 15 Mbps as an eventual goal — for both data and voice. Broadband access for phones is a moving target, due anywhere from late 2008 to some point beyond 2009.

Both Sprint and Clearwire will maintain open standards and networks, promised Hesse, supporting any end-user device and compatible software. Sprint plans to monitor device security while protecting the new network from malicious security events.