Friday, January 15, 2010

Clearwire may consider 4G alternatives to WiMax

[cnet] WiMax may be Clearwire's technology of choice today as it builds out its nationwide 4G wireless network, but the upstart carrier may eventually migrate to a competing technology that's expected to be used by most of the world's major wireless operators.

Clearwire's willingness to add additional 4G technologies to its network in the future will likely help it compete more aggressively in the future with other 4G wireless providers, such as Verizon Wireless. And ultimately this could mean more choices, better services, and more competitive pricing for wireless broadband services for consumers.

In an interview with CNET after the 2010 CES trade show in Las Vegas where Clearwire was showing off its new network, Mike Sievert, chief commercial officer for Clearwire, said his company doesn't want to be identified solely as a WiMax carrier. Instead, he said people should think of Clearwire as a mobile broadband company that is open to different types of technology. This is a big change for a company that has been held up as the poster child for WiMax.

"We take a long term view of the market and we do not have a myopic view of a particular flavor of technology," he said. "We are building our network to be future proof. Because after 4G there will be 5G and 6G."

There are currently two major technologies that are in contention as the foundation of next generation wireless networks: WiMax and LTE or Long Term Evolution. These technologies are similar in many technical respects, but they are different enough at this point in time that devices and equipment built for one technology cannot be used with the other.

Clearwire, which has partnered with Sprint, is currently using WiMax to build its network. And Sievert says there are no immediate plans to change that. Meanwhile, most of the world's largest mobile operators including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Vodafone, and Telefonica are planning to use a competing technology, LTE.

Primary reason
The major benefit of LTE is that it allows existing GSM mobile operators to more easily and cost-effectively migrate to the next generation of wireless. But WiMax, which is similar to LTE, was available in the market first. And as a result, its technology is more mature than LTE's. This is the main reason that Clearwire chose to use WiMax in the first place.

"WiMax is here and now," Sievert said. "And LTE was not when we began building our network."

Indeed, carriers that have said they will use LTE to build their 4G networks will not have a network commercially ready until later in 2010 or 2011 at the earliest.

By using WiMax, Clearwire, and its partners Sprint, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, have given themselves at least a year to two year head start over their competitors. Clearwire is starting 2010 with 25 4G wireless markets up and running. Its network is available to about 30 million people. By the end of this year, it expects to be in 100 markets with the potential to serve 120 million subscribers.

By contrast, Verizon is hoping to reach 25 to 30 markets and 100 million potential customers with its LTE-based 4G network by the end of 2010 with more cities to be added the following year.

Still, even with a head start, neither Clearwire nor any of its reseller partners are lighting the world on fire with new subscribers. During the second quarter of 2009, it added a total of about 12,000 new subscribers. It added about 173,000 new subscribers in the third quarter bringing its total subscribership to 550,000. This figure includes consumers who have signed up for service via Clearwire's reseller partners, Sprint, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable. It also includes customers who had already signed up for Clearwire's pre-WiMax service that offered fixed wireless broadband.

Clearwire may consider 4G alternatives to WiMax

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