Clearwire: In Depth With Barry West
Unstrung grabbed 10 minutes with West today to talk about what the new $14.5 billion venture will mean for the future of 4G in the U.S.
After months of rumor and speculation, negative investor comment, and press coverage, West is clearly delighted to unveil the revamped Clearwire venture and have something positive to say about deploying mobile broadband (see Clearwire's Rumor Ride):
I'm estatic for me and my team and the people at Clearwire, who we've obviously got to know well in the last few months... But also for Sprint and its investors and management.
West isn't mincing his words about what he considers the importance of the venture and how it might affect the future of wireless in the U.S:
This is going to change the way people communicate. Me personally, I believe that having access to the Internet everywhere you are is going to be even more important then the cellphone.
West will be closely involved with Clearwire's deployment of WiMax in 2009 along with Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff, who will head up the new WiMax venture:
Fundamentally, I will be running the company. Ben Wolff has a lot of experience with the financial markets, and we will seek more funding for this [deployment]. I'm the infrastructure guy.
Obviously we have to get DOJ approval in the meantime. We can't do a combined plan until we get [regulatory] approval.
The companies are hoping that they get approval by the end of 2008. Broadly, they are talking about covering "120 to 140 million" people in the U.S. by the end of 2010 using Sprint's 2.5 Ghz nationwide footprint.
In the meantime, Sprint will continue with its Xohm rollout in Chicago and the Baltimore-Washington area, and the old Clearwire plans to launch its first mobile WiMax market in Portland, Ore., in the second half of 2008. West says that the soft launch markets are now seeing download speeds of 3 to 4 Mbit/s:
It's working, I have it in my house now... We're in heavy build-out in our markets -- it should be ready in either the late third quarter or early fourth quarter.
The Xohm launch was originally scheduled for April in the existing markets, but West reiterates that backhaul -- as well as billing -- issues have delayed the launch (see 4G Backhaul: A Problem for All?):
Rollout issues are tougher than I expected, obviously, particularly with building microwave links.
Nonetheless, he is confident that Sprint will meet the stipulation the FCC made, as part of Sprint's $36 billion merger with Nextel in 2005, that the operator deploy a network that covers at least 15 million Americans within four years of the merger -- in other words, in 2009:
They are fairly minimal requirements and our current plans easily meet them.
The operator is now working with AT4 Wireless Inc. to test initial devices for its network. Initial gizmos available for WiMax will be modems from ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) and ZyXEL Communications Corp. , a laptop using an Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) chipset, and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)'s 810 tablet.
West can't say much about how the venture will price services, but both Sprint and Clearwire have promised that WiMax will offer cheaper wireless broadband:
I don't think you'll see plans north of $60, lets put it that way.
Like other execs of "new" Clearwire, or "NewCo" as he repeatedly called the new venture, West is now happy to talk up the lead that mobile WiMax will have over rival 4G long-term technolgies offered by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless :
This must be the worst day for our competitors. I think they were expecting Sprint to stumble, and we didn't.
LTE will be a good technology when it arrives, but I don't see how they deploy 3G-LTE before 2011. They're still working on the standard. Our standard was baked in 2005. By that logic, we should see LTE in 2011.
Verizon has said it will take LTE (Long-Term Evolution) nationwide in 2010. AT&T is shooting for a more conservative 2011-2012 time frame.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung