Sprint on Dec. 21 will become the first U.S. carrier to sell a 4G modem in its stores.

The device, called U300, currently only works for WiMAX connections in the Baltimore region. Sprint, through its Xohm/Clearwire service, is promising additional market coverage in 2009.

There will be average downlink speeds of 2 to 4 Mb for WiMAX. The modem still works in 3G mode around the country at 600 Kb to 1.4 Mb, officials explained.

Franklin Wireless built the modems, which cost $149.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a two-year contract. The contract will cost $79.99 per month. The modem will also be sold in Best Buy stores, and other WiMAX modems are planned for release next year, a spokesman said.

Whether WiMAX is truly 4G or just an evolution of 3G is subject to debate and technical nuance, but clearly Sprint is advertising it as a next-generation service. Technically, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), WiMAX is still 3G.

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