Optical/IP Networks

Could Clearwire Help T-Mobile Find a 4G Fit?

A reported Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) investment in Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) wouldn't provide its subsidiary, T-Mobile US Inc. , with a smooth and easy path to next-generation wireless broadband services, according to Unstrung's analysis of the companies' spectrum holdings.

A Bloomberg report suggests that DT is in "preliminary discussions" with Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) and MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) about making investments so that T-Mobile could potentially use its spectrum for so-called "4G" services.

Of the two operators, MetroPCS is a better fit from the spectrum perspective; both it and T-Mobile operate services on the 1700 MHz AWS band and 1900 MHz PCS band. Clearwire, through its deal with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), has nationwide holdings of 2.4 GHz spectrum.

This means that if T-Mobile were to use Clearwire spectrum to deploy a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network (or if Clearwire eventually converted to LTE), it would either have to offer users LTE-only devices or wait for dualmode devices that house radios to support the multiple frequencies it would need.

The Clearwire spectrum holdings are also better suited to technologies that support Time Division Duplexing (TDD) modulation schemes that use a single channel up and down for radio communications. Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) are both deploying their LTE networks in 700 MHz spectrum that supports traditional Frequency Division Duplexing two-channel communications.

There isn't yet an official TDD profile for LTE, although work is happening on one. China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) is expected to use LTE TDD in its network in the 2011-12 time frame.

So, the technology differences between Clearwire and T-Mobile USA aren't insurmountable, but a DT play for 2.5 GHz spectrum would be a long-term investment rather than a quick fix for an LTE push.

Certainly, an investment would be good for Clearwire, which has said that it needs $2 billion more to complete its nationwide rollout. (See Clearwire Is a WiMax Company (For Now).) — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

joset01 12/5/2012 | 3:55:38 PM
re: Could Clearwire Help T-Mobile Find a 4G Fit? So how much do we reckon renting Clearwire spectrum is worth?
jackebrown 12/5/2012 | 3:55:33 PM
re: Could Clearwire Help T-Mobile Find a 4G Fit?

Over the last two or three years, WiMAX has gained a strong foothold in developing countries in which there is a need for broadband, but the fixed infrastructure is poor. However, its doubtful that the developing market offers sufficient growth potential and size to sustain continued investment from such heavyweights as Cisco Systems, Intel and Motorola without additional sales in the developed markets. But in the developed markets of Europe and the USA, there are some early signs of a difficult future for WiMAX.

In the USA, Sprint is rolling out a national WiMAX network through its majority shareholding in Clearwire, but the growth in number of subscribers has been disappointing. Google and Intel, among others, have already written off billions of dollars they had invested in Clearwire. This does not look good for WiMAX. Also, it appears that the North American CDMA operators may move to LTE, rather than to WiMAX.

Ericsson’s purchase of Nortel’s interests in CDMA and LTE will encourage CDMA operators to shift to LTE, creating greater acceptance of LTE in North America. Huawei is strongly promoting LTE and has recently opened up a new LTE laboratory in Richardson, Texas, where operators can familiarise themselves with the technology.

In developed European markets, operators are almost certainly upgrading their 3G technologies to 4G LTE in order to match the rising demand for data. Analysys Mason’s Research division recently carried out an extensive series of interviews with the leading MNOs in Europe: none of the operators interviewed hinted that they might adopt WiMAX, now that LTE is imminent. They see WiMAX as a technology to be deployed in an ad hoc fashion in developing countries.


T-Mobile plans to repurpose its PCS spectrum at 1900 MHz for LTE as it moves voice calls from the GSM network to its new 3G network on the Advanced Wireless Services band. T-Mobile senior vice president of engineering of operations Neville Ray said the operator’s brand spanking new HSPA network gives T-Mobile plenty of breathing room to make that transition, while also allowing a final LTE standard to emerge and vendor equipment to prove itself in the market. “Sometimes you want to pioneer, sometimes you don’t. We can wait.”

T-Mobile rolled out the bulk of its HSPA network in 2007 and 2008, commercially launching the network last summer and fall when it released its first consumer 3G device, HTC’s G1 smartphone powered by Google’s new Android operating system. The network now is live 130 cities, including 27 major markets, and its total footprint covers 100 million people.

Though T-Mobile was far behind the other U.S. operators in launching 3G, being the last to market has certain advantages. Ray pointed out that its 15,000 Ericsson and Nokia Siemens networks base stations are all of the latest advanced design, each easily software upgradable to the next evolutionary step of UMTS, HSPA+. Operators with older UMTS equipment in their networks won’t necessarily be able to make the transition so easily. Ray said T-Mobile plans to begin its upgrades to HSPA+ in the late 2009 or early 2010.


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