The Week in WiMax

7:10 AM What will Clearwire do with all its spectrum?

March 22, 2010

3 Min Read
The Week in WiMax

7:10 AM -- This week in WiMax, here's the big issue, as I see it:

How will Clearwire use its big wireless spectrum advantage?
Nothing like a little competition to get the market juices flowing. But we're not so sure that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless really want to talk a whole lot about wireless spectrum right now, because however you want to count it, the Clearwire/Sprint combination of spectrum assets at 2.5GHz trumps any and all holdings the big carriers have, at least for now. The big question we see ahead for Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) is how to make the most of that asset, since the WiMax provider and its partners probably won't come anywhere close to filling up those airwaves by signing customers up themselves, at least not in the next year or two.

We here at Spectrum Central would welcome a sit-down with AT&T's Kris Rinne or Verizon's Tom Sawanobori to talk about the relative merits of 700MHz vs. 2.5GHz, or about how much spectrum the big carriers have at their disposal, versus what's available to Clearwire.

While we respect Ms. Rinne's contention that AT&T might be able to repurpose some of its cellular spectrum for 4G LTE somewhere down the line, that seems to be ignoring the challenge of convincing your millions of current non-smartphone users to give up their feature handsets for a pricier handset and by-the-bit billing.

Maybe Luke Wilson can convince them it's the smart thing to do. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Clearwire has enough spectrum under its control to contemplate several options for the valuable real estate. One rumor that never seems to die down is allowing another provider, most likely T-Mobile US Inc. , to "rent" some of Clearwire's spectrum to bolster T-Mobile's somewhat weak nationwide holdings for high-speed wireless data networks. Another option is for Clearwire to build out a companion LTE network to sit side-by-side with its WiMax network, a luxury you can afford when you have almost 150MHz to work with in most of the major U.S. markets.

But just like the technical lead Clearwire gained by using WiMax (ready now) instead of LTE (ready real, real soon), the company's spectrum lead will also probably be short-lived, a few years tops, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now actively seeking to free up more airwaves, many of which will probably be gobbled up by the big telcos.

While some of the moves -- like renting airwaves to potential competitors -- might seem radical, unused spectrum is probably worth less to cash-hungry Clearwire. Trading some of its spectrum for capital to expand more quickly might give Clearwire the boost it needs to reach the service provider big leagues.

Need to know more about Clearwire's network? Our latest report takes a look at Clearwire's innovative backhaul strategy, its open-Internet core network, and its spectrum depth assets -- and it's free to download! Just visit this link to get your copy today. Also available now for free download is our WiMax Business Deployment Guide.

— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a WiMax analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Light Reading Mobile.

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