9:25 AM Time for Clearwire to clarify subscriber counts

August 14, 2009

3 Min Read
This Week in WiMax

9:25 AM -- This week in WiMax, here are the big issues, as I see them:

Why Clearwire needs to be 'Clear' about its 4G subscriber count
I'm not a financial analyst and don't even play one on TV, but that still won't stop me from wondering why Clearwire thinks it's a good idea to bury, obfuscate, or otherwise cloud the reality surrounding its 4G subscriber numbers, as it did in this week's earnings report. Long ago, Clearwire knew that with mainly just one live 4G market (Portland, Ore.) its second-quarter new-subscriber numbers would be small, perhaps embarrassingly so. But in reporting just 12,000 net adds during its Aug. 11 earnings call, Clearwire further muddied the number by refusing to break out its new, mobile WiMax subscribers from those associated with the company's pre-WiMax services -- giving followers no real idea how mobile WiMax is selling.

Maybe it wouldn't be such a problem if the company didn't keep insisting that sales are going great, that they're beating internal targets, yada yada, which is all meaningless chatter without any stated metrics for comparison. Wouldn't it be smarter for Clearwire to admit that selling a new method of broadband access in a down economy is going to be a tough row to hoe and embrace the small-but-growing number as being better than zero? Right now Clearwire's like a beginning golfer who thinks that taking mulligans and "gimme" putts will make people think they're competent because it makes the scorecard look better. But in golf and in business there's a lot to be said about being honest from the get-go, since it makes any improvement a solid source of pride and accomplishment. Plus, it proves you're a player others can trust.

Maybe obfuscation is just something that comes with the territory of being a service provider -- but do we really need another AT&T, telling everyone the network is fine while iPhone complaints pile up? If 4G is Clearwire's future -- and it's a pretty good guess that Comcast, Intel, Google, and Time Warner Cable didn't pony up all that dough for pre-WiMax customers -- why not start a really new wave in telecom services, one based on the kind of openness Clearwire is promising from its network, and just put the new-subscriber number out there for everyone to see?

At some point, that number is going to be found out, figured out, or leaked -- and if you're still trying to hide it, no good can come of that kind of publicity. While Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow may think it's "premature" to break out such numbers right now, be assured that your competitors have already started the count. And trust us, you are never going to like the numbers they are going to report for WiMax use. Better to get out in front and embrace the small but growing number yourself, and enjoy the gains of hard work if and when they come.

Need to know more about Clearwire and WiMax? My Clearwire NTK report costs less than a triple-soy grande chai latte. Just $4.95 at the Sidecut store. Also available for the Kindle.

— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a WiMax analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung.

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