Optical/IP Networks

Clearwire's Broadband Bay

Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR)'s job ads for network deployment managers in the Bay Area open up all kinds of interesting questions about the future of mobile broadband in San Francisco and beyond.

The ads make it clear the Kirkland, Wash.-based WiMax operator is planning a rollout in the Bay Area, although the firm hasn't said anything official about such a deployment. If I were a betting man, I'd guess it will be tied in with the joint XOHM deployment of mobile WiMax with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), which goes nationwide next year. (See More WiMax Coming to the Bay Area? and Sprint's Ready to XOHM Out.)

A Bay Area WiMax rollout would provide more competition for enterprise WiMax-focused service providers, such as Towerstream Corp. (Nasdaq: TWER), which already operate services in San Francisco. (See TowerStream Dips on Nasdaq Opening.)

It could also prove to be one of the final nails in the San Francisco muni WiFi project's coffin, which appears to be floundering anyway now that EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) has dropped out. (See What Now for Muni WiFi?)

Then again, the availablity of cheap WiMax devices could prove to be critical in that situation, since WiFi is already so prevalent.

Nonetheless, San Francisco and the Bay Area, like NYC, could be one of the markets that will help to show whether users care enough about high-speed mobility to buy into WiMax. The largely affluent, tech-savvy consumer base is the perfect audience for WiMax, but the market is already loaded with cable and DSL connectivity options.

Sprint has said its mobile WiMax service should offer download speeds of 2 Mbit/s to 4 Mbit/s. Potentially, users could buy into the service and get better rates than DSL at a mildly higher monthly cost. But will they want mobility enough to undertake the hassle of changing?

The experience of South Korea seems to suggest that users are starting to warm to WiBro and wireless broadband. (See The Decade of 4G.) Will the same hold true in the U.S.? — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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