Cellular phone industry pioneer Craig McCaw announced this week that he and other telecom veterans are launching a new fixed wireless broadband venture called Clearwire that will offer voice-over-IP services as well as data access.
Clearwire will begin rolling out service in Jacksonville, Fla., and St. Cloud, Minn., this summer. The company will extend broadband service to areas underserved by cable or DSL access, and is expected to compete with these consumer broadband options in other areas. Service is to be offered at 512K bps, 786K bps or 1.5M bps, and will bundle local and long-distance VOIP service alongside broadband Internet data access.
McCaw has prepared for this launch by acquiring several companies and licensed spectrum over the past two years. Chief among these was NextNet, developer of non-line-of-sight- (NLOS), plug-and-play broadband wireless access systems. Currently installed in 20 markets around the world, including Mexico, Canada, the United States, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, Clearwire will use this technology platform, modified with its own proprietary technology, to power its IP-based wireless network.
In a company release, Clearwire Chief Technology Officer Rob Mechaley said, "This technology is delivering on the promise of WiMax services. We have a second-generation chipset in the market now, with a third generation planned for next year."
To be profitable, the fixed-wireless approach to broadband service relies largely on subscriber self-sufficiency and desire for instant gratification when it comes to installation: Customer premise equipment consists of a book-sized indoor transceiver unit that consumers merely plug into power outlets and the Ethernet jacks of their LANs or PCs. In rural business settings, the indoor units receive and transmit as far as five miles from the service providers base station. An optional outdoor unit, mounted under eaves, extends the range to 20 miles.
Clearwire, based in Kirkland, Wash., expects to launch service in other domestic and international markets over the upcoming year. McCaw will serve as the companys Chairman and CEO. His record in telecom is long and mixed: He founded McCaw Cellular, the first nationwide cellular network, and sold it in 1994 to AT&T for $11.5 billion. In 1990, he founded Teledesic, intended as a satellite-based, broadband-service phone company. It folded in 2002 before launching any satellites. XO Communications Inc., a broadband company he founded in 1994, filed for bankruptcy in 2002.