Clearwire: We'll Kick LTE's Butt
On a conference call today announcing the planned new independent WiMax operator, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse boasted that the new company, with Sprint's and Clearwire's 2.5 GHz spectrum combined, will have a "national footprint" and "the largest spectrum position of any company in the U.S." -- which will leave those mobile operators planning LTE networks playing catchup in the mobile broadband services market.
He added that, because both Sprint and Clearwire have been working for some time towards WiMax service rollouts, the new company, due to be officially formed in the fourth quarter of this year, will be "at least two years ahead of the competition... We have a substantial time-to-market advantage over others who have only just got their 4G spectrum."
That "competition" is AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless , which recently landed their 4G spectrum and plan to build out networks using LTE (long term evolution), the technology many current 3G mobile operators are planning to deploy from 2010 onwards. (See AT&T & Verizon to Use 700 MHz for 4G .)
While that's some years ahead, both Sprint and Clearwire are believed to be within months of (independently) launching WiMax services. "We can realize [4G services] now rather than years down the road," boasted Hesse, perhaps somewhat prematurely, given Sprint's history of missed Wimax launch deadlines. (See XOHM May Launch This Summer.)
Clearwire has been putting its planned WiMax offering through its paces in Portland, Ore., where, according to Clearwire's CEO Ben Wolff (who will head up the new WiMax venture), the company has been achieving up to 6 Mbit/s downstream and up to 3 Mbit/s upstream in vehicles traveling at 60 miles per hour.
"Based on our experience in Portland, we'll be able to exceed anything that the legacy mobile networks can offer. We aim to provide four times the performance at one tenth of the cost of the legacy wireless networks," stated Wolff, though he didn't comment on how competitive the prices would be.
And Barry West, Sprint's CTO and Clearwire president-elect, believes it will be a long time before LTE is ready to make a true 4G challenge to Wimax. "We expect to see only early trials of LTE in 2010 -- it'll take a lot longer" to get a full network and services up and running, carped West, who, as the video below shows, is keen to press home WiMax's 4G credentials.
Putting Clearwire's plans into action
Now the new company, along with its backers, will start fleshing out its WiMax rollout plans. The "new" Clearwire will have a $3.2 billion purse courtesy of its five strategic investors -- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) (through Intel Capital ), and three cable operators, Bright House Networks , Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) -- plus whatever cash Clearwire has when the company is finally formed.
Even with the efficiencies that'll come from the new carrier's relationship with majority shareholder Sprint, which will provide collocation at cell tower sites at preferential rates, IT support, IP transport capacity, and an enterprise-focused sales team, that initial cash pile will likely be used up by mid-2010, by which time Clearwire hopes to have 110 million people covered with its WiMax service.
As a result, Sprint and Clearwire believe the new Clearwire will need further funding of between $2 billion and $2.3 billion, which it will seek "opportunistically" from the capital markets as needed.
If all goes to plan, that would enable the company to fund its initial buildout, which it sees covering up to 140 million people by the end of 2010 and, ultimately, more than 200 million U.S. citizens after that.
That's a plan that will come under intense scrutiny, given Sprint's previous WiMax coverage timelines: In August 2007 it said it would have 19 markets covered with WiMax services by the end of April 2008, and have 100 million within service range by the end of 2008, yet the operator is yet to declare the service available. (See Sprint & Samsung in NYC WiMax Push.)
In the meantime, Sprint has other issues to contend with, including speculation about potential takeover offers and the future of its iDEN network. (See Sprint: 4G & M&A Still Unclear and Sprint 'Committed' to iDEN .)
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading