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WiMax Comes To A Second U.S. City

Clearwire rolls out a 4G wireless broadband network in Portland, Ore doubling the number of U.S. cities with a WiMax alternative. What stands to be a big leap ahead for WiMax, remains a long way to blanketing us in broadband access.
Clearwire rolls out a 4G wireless broadband network in Portland, Ore doubling the number of U.S. cities with a WiMax alternative. What stands to be a big leap ahead for WiMax, remains a long way to blanketing us in broadband access.With the official introduction of Clearwire's WiMax network in Portland, Ore., there are now two U.S. cities where you can get WiMax service. Clearwire launched last year in Baltimore as well. That WiMax network retains -- for the moment -- the Sprint branding the preceded the joint efforts of Clearwire and Sprint Nextel to rollout WiMax service under the Clearwire brand.

Speaking of brand, while what was Clearwire remains Clearwire and what was Sprint becomes Clearwire, albeit with Sprint Nextel as the majority partner, the WiMax service brand for Clearwire is now Clear. In Portland WiMax is Clear and in Baltimore WiMax will become Clear. And in case you're confused, the tagline of this new brand is "Let's be Clear."

But that's wordplay, what was clear in the demo in Portland today was the speed of the WiMax network. In a live video chat between Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff, there were none of the awkward pauses and delays you expect with live video. And to prove that the network extended beyond the RiverPlace Hotel conference room and Portland City Hall, the Clear launch event included rides on shuttle busses complete with notebooks and netbooks (of course powered by the processors of Clearwire backer Intel).

The consumer-centric push of the event centered on the seemingly unslakeable thirst for Internet access in general and the increasing demand for wireless access in particular. As Clearwire chief strategy officer said, "All roads lead to wireless."

Mobile broadband is great in concept, but availability in only two cities (and not big cities either) is so far from ubiquity that it begs skepticism about Wolff's stated ambition for Clearwire that "we are doing for the Internet what cellular did for voice communications." The exec attempted to address this blind spot before the Q&A session in point out that "90% of the population spends 90% of their time in their home networks. That's true on consumer side, but on the small- and medium-size business side, there's plumbers and electricians, real estate and trades people." But even if you're not a road warrior, paying for a connectivity you can't use on the road is a major question mark.

And for those business owners that don't stray from their home networks areas, what does this mobile broadband utopia cost? Business pricing quoted at launch (not including hardware costs):

  • Internet access (unlimited wireless broadband modem at single location)
    • $75/month: 6Mbps download/1Mbps upload
    • $55/month: 4Mbps download/1Mbps upload

  • Mobile devices (shared across multiple devices -- $25/month for each additional device + $10 per GB charge for overages)
    • $125/month: 30GB (4Mbps download/1Mbps upload)
    • $95/month: 20GB (4Mbps download/1Mbps upload)
    • $75/month: 15GB (4Mbps download/1Mbps upload)

  • Voice services (service for U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico)
    • $25/month

Wolff declined to discuss where Clear would rollout next, though Chicago and Washington D.C. are allegedly slated for the second half of 2009. Though he did toss out 25% market penetration as a benchmark of both network capacity and wild success.

Despite his Intel pedigree and the $1.6 billion in backing Intel has provided Clearwire, Intel chief sales and marketing office Sean Maloney was still eager to talk up the small company underdog angle, noting, "It isn't always the biggest companies that succeed when you're going through a technology transition." That may be true, but that doesn't mean that tossing aside legacy equipment and vendor relationships in favor of WiMax make sense -- at least yet. For this technology transition, the smart be remains wait and see.

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