If not quite coast-to-coast, WiMax is now at least on each coast. Three months after Sprint Nextel carried out the nation’s first WiMax rollout in Baltimore, Clearwire-the newly combined WiMax operations of Sprint and Clearwire-flipped the switch Jan. 6 on a WiMax deployment in Portland, Ore.
WiMax’s 4G technology allows for the delivery of last-mile wireless broadband access, promising faster download speeds than current cellular networks, and holds the potential to be a competitor to fixed-line broadband such as DSL. Verizon Wireless, AT&T and other mobile carriers have committed to a 3G technology known as LTE.
“Today is a historic day for the evolution of mobile computing and communications services in Portland and the U.S.,” Clearwire CEO Benjamin G. Wolff said in a statement. “Clearwire is reinventing wireless by delivering an unmatched combination of Internet speed and mobility.”
Clearwire plans to provide WiMax service in most of the top 100 markets by no later than 2010, although the current economic conditions could put a crimp in those plans. Clearwire estimates it will take up to $7 billion to complete the network. When Sprint and Clearwire formally closed their $14.5 billion merger deal Dec. 1 to combine the two carriers’ 4G wireless Internet businesses, the deal also included a combined $3.2 billion investment by Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks.
“WiMax is a new wireless technology that raises the bar on a truly mobile and affordable Internet experience for consumers,” said Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer. “Intel, along with Clearwire and its partners, are proud to bring U.S. customers a next-generation world-leading broadband solution that redefines how, when and where consumers interact with the Internet.”
Clearwire WiMax Service Details
Clearwire’s open all-IP network provides customers with average download speeds initially of 2M to 4M bps and peak rates that are considerably faster. In the Portland rollout, mobile, residential and business plans can be purchased by the day or by the month without long-term service contracts. Home Internet service plans start at $20 per month, while mobile Internet plans start at $30 per month, or customers can purchase a day pass for $10.
Portland’s WiMax mobile customers will access the service through a WiMax-enabled USB modem for laptops. The Motorola USB modem costs $49.99. Customers can purchase the modem from a local retail store or online, and activate service at their convenience, anywhere in Clearwire’s coverage area.
For residential service, Clearwire offers customers a wireless high-speed modem. Customers plug the modem into a power outlet anywhere in their home or office and connect the modem to a PC. The residential modem, also from Motorola, can be leased for $4.99 monthly.
Clearwire hopes its combined wireless spectrum with Sprint will allow the new Clearwire to achieve greater coverage, cost and operational efficiency, and bandwidth utilization than either company could by operating alone.
Intel, a longtime proponent of WiMax, will invest about $1 billion in the new Clearwire while Comcast plans to contribute a little more than $1 billion. Time Warner is putting up $550 million and Google $500 million. Sprint, the nation’s No. 3 wireless carrier, will own the largest stake in the new company, with about 51 percent equity ownership. Existing Clearwire shareholders will own about 27 percent of the venture.
The new strategic investors, as a group, will be acquiring about 22 percent of the new Clearwire. Google will become Sprint’s preferred mobile search provider and Sprint users will have easier access to Google Maps for mobile, YouTube and other Google services. The new WiMax network will be open to all legal devices and services, including Google’s Android platform. Intel will supply networking gear and software for the new network.