Clearwire Cloudy on Chicago

There has been much speculation about Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) launching in the Windy City soon, after "Clear" service ads began appearing on the Chicago Tribune Website over the new year, but the operator itself says that it is still discussing rollout plans with the board.

Clearwire is due to launch its first "Clear"-branded service in Portland, Ore., this week. The company has a local press conference with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) planned for Tuesday (Jan. 6). (See Clearwire Sets Portland WiMax Launch.)

Sidecut Reports and several other blogs noted the "Clear" ads in the Chicago Tribune on Jan. 1. The ads seemed to indicate that commercial mobile WiMax service might be just round the corner for the Windy City.

It ain't necessarily so, however, according to Clearwire. "The Clear ads ran as part of a run-of-network ad buy which happened to include the Tribune site, among others across the country," a Clearwire spokeswoman told Unstrung. "However, the service is not available in Chicago at this time, and we have not announced any plans to launch the service locally."

The Clearwire comments cloud the water somewhat, without actually entirely ruling out the prospect of a Chicago launch after the operator has got its strategy in order. "We will announce our network expansion plans early this year, after we have had a chance to meet with our new Board to discuss our plans," elucidates the spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is telling the Chicago Tribune that it hopes to get "4G" services up and running in Chicago by the end of this year. "Chicago is very high on our list," Todd Rowley, vice president for Sprint's WiMax network, told the paper over the weekend. "We have many hundreds of cell sites operating already in the area. I hope it will be available in the latter half of the year." Sprint's launch date may differ from Clearwire's projective date, however. Under the "new" Clearwire deal, Sprint will actually operate as a mobile virtual network operator and resell "Sprint 4G" services, likely with a dual-mode CDMA component as well, so Clearwire will be first to offer commercial services in new markets. (See Sprint Lets WiMax Users Escape From Baltimore.) So where does this all leave the prospects for WiMax in Chicago? Well, what we do know is that Sprint was well advanced with its Xohm buildout and that this network will now form the backbone of Clearwire's "Clear" service, whenever that actually arrives.

Sprint was already talking about Chicago with Unstrung at the WiMax World show. "Right after our merger, which is imminent, we'll be in a position to announce markets, and Clearwire will be in a position to announce markets," Atish Gude, senior vice president of Mobile Broadband Operations at Sprint's new 4G Mobile Broadband business unit, said in October.(See Chicago WiMax Is 'Imminent'.) Even back then, Chicago was Sprint's largest WiMax market buildout. The operator had installed 600 or so cell sites around the Chicago area by then.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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