4G World: Clearwire Surfs a Bigger 'Wave

Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) is to deploy DragonWave Inc. (AIM/Toronto: DWI; Nasdaq: DRWI)'s newly launched microwave radio backhaul product, the Horizon Quantum, which promises up to 4 Gbit/s of capacity on a single link.

Clearwire, like other carriers deploying wireless broadband services, has a need for speed in the pipes that connect its WiMax access network back to the Internet. (See 4G Backhaul: A Problem for All?)

The issue with backhaul is a simple one: T1 lines, which many carriers (particularly in the U.S.) use extensively to connect their metro and access networks, cannot cope with wireless base stations that pump out data at hundreds of megabits per second -- which is necessary to provide individual users with connections capable of delivering data downloads at a few megabits-per-second.

DragonWave is promising a speed boost with its new radio product, which it is showing off at this week's 4G World event in Chicago. "Four gigabits per second per link is the maximum we're advertising," says Erik Boch, DragonWave's CTO. He says this will average down to 2 Gbit/s a link, compared to the 1 Gbit/s or so in previous DragonWave microwave products.

"We're looking foward to using it very soon," Clearwire CTO John Saw says of the Quantum product. "The secret is that they've put some clever compression software in there."

Microwave is a key piece of the puzzle for Clearwire: Saw estimates that 90 percent of the firm's network uses the radio backhaul systems. DragonWave is the dominant supplier for Clearwire's microwave backhaul network.

Saw says Clearwire needs, on average, a 30- to 50-Mbit/s link to get a cell site up and running. Obviously the DragonWave product provides much more than that, but that additional capacity provides good fallback as bandwidth-hungry services like video grow in popularity. "I see a lot of video traffic on our network," says Saw.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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