Let's Play 'Count the Subscribers'
The number of paying subscribers -- and not potential user coverage -- is the only number WiMax operators should care about
After watching the telecom trade press lather a lot of love on Long Term Evolution (LTE) this past week, it's understandable that the WiMAX Forum would want to interrupt that thought-stream by saying something that puts its chosen technology under the best viewing light. But I think that a press release publicizing the number of potential users that WiMax services "cover" is misleading and ultimately hurts more than helps WiMax providers, by obfuscating the only number that really matters: paying subscribers.
If you're new to the wireless provider game, you may not understand the whole "POPS covered" dodge -- it is basically a way for service providers to talk in the millions while they are only really signing up hundreds or thousands. Though the term traditionally refers to "points of presence," in wireless parlance POPs is used as shorthand for population -- so if you say your wireless network "covers 3 million POPs," you are saying that your wireless cloud provides services over an area where 3 million people live. Theoretically, they could all become your customers.
And maybe pigs can fly. While impressive in sound, POPs are not a very helpful metric for anyone other than the PR people who like to put out fluff press releases.
Truly, the only number that matters -- to users, developers, device manufacturers, investors, and others -- is how many people you have convinced to pay you. How many contracts have you signed? That's why we'll be paying close attention to next week's earnings call by Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), to see if the company met its fourth-quarter goal of 81,000 new subscribers. And how many more does Clearwire think it will add in the coming months?
While even Clearwire's subscriber numbers have some shaking out ahead -- neither Clearwire nor its wholesale partners like Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) or Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) have yet come up with a method to report the number of Comcast or Sprint 4G customers riding atop Clearwire's network -- the growing tally and its comparative history over time gives a real, honest picture of how well WiMax is doing in a competitive market.
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— 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.