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Amidst 4G growth, Clearwire ponders move from WiMAX to LTE

May 6, 2010 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

Clearwire Communications announced new markets and handsets for its WiMAX-based 4G mobile internet service, including a video-centric Android phone from Samsung. But, even as it announced a 94 percent increase in subscribers and 72 percent year-over-year increase in revenue, the service provider signaled a possible migration from WiMAX to the rival LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology.

Clearwire's announcements came via a combination of press releases, a earnings statement for the first quarter of its 2010 financial year, and a subsequent earnings call. The company — which sells WiMAX-based 4G networking under its own Clear brand, as well as via Comcast, Sprint, and Time Warner Cable — said revenue during the period reached $106 million, a 72 percent year-over-year increase.

During the quarter, 283,000 new subscribers were added, reaching a total of 971,000, Clearwire said. Representing a 94 percent increase over last year, this total includes 157,000 wholesale subscribers from Comcast (High Speed 2go), Sprint (Sprint 4G), and Time Warner Cable (Road Runner Mobile), the company added.

Clearwire says its 4G service is currently available in 32 markets covering 41 million people. Service will be added this summer in Tampa and Orlando, and will be available to as many as 120 million people across the U.S., the company claims.

In an earnings call yesterday afternoon, Clearwire CEO William Morrow said:

Over the course of 2010, the company has and will be expanding our 4G mobile broadband network services in three main tranches. The first was over the past few weeks, which included Houston, Harrisburg, Reading, Lancaster and New York. The second tranche will be this summer and will include 19 additional cities. Finally the third tranche will be later in the year and will include New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, among others.

New Samsung Android phone

Morrow (right) also signaled that "over the near term," Clearwire will announce new devices for accessing its network. One of these will be a portable router that can support up to eight WiFi-enabled clients, "including the new Apple iPad," but there will also be two new 4G WiMAX handsets, he added.

"We're working with Samsung on an Android-based device optimized for heavy video communications that leverage the high-capacity, low-latency, high-speed characteristics of our network. In addition, we're working with HTC on a second 3G/4G/WiFi-enabled phone," Morrow said.

In March, Sprint and HTC announced an Android device claimed to be the first WiMAX-capable smartphone in the U.S. The HTC Evo 4G (left) employs a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 chipset, offering CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. B and HSPA as well as CDMA2000, while being backward-compatible with WCDMA and GSM/GPRS/EDGE.

HTC had earlier announced the "world's first" WiMAX phone, the Windows Mobile-based HTC MAX 4G. Based on Windows Mobile, the MAX 4G was said in November 2008 to include a 3.8-inch 800 x 480 display, a 528MHz Qualcomm ESM7206A processor, and tri-band GSM connectivity as well as WiMAX.

Meanwhile, Clearwire reseller Sprint has said forthcoming Lenovo Thinkpad notebooks will support both 4G and 3G connectivity. Lenovo's bundled Access Connection tool makes it easy to switch from 3G to 4G when necessary, according to the carrier.

3G capabilities on ThinkPad devices reportedly derive from Mini PCI Express cards housing Qualcomm's Gobi chipset, which is inherently multi-standard. Gobi-enabled devices can connect to either WCDMA or GSM cellular networks worldwide and will be LTE-capable too, as the chipmaker announced in March. (Qualcomm shuns WiMAX, however, so the 4G-enabled ThinkPads likely use Intel's Echo Peak combination WiMAX/WiFi module.)

Clearwire switching to LTE?

Based on the IEEE 802.16 standard, WiMAX made an early entry into the 4G networking arena. The Intel-backed technology is touted as providing download speeds of 4 to 6Mbps, "with bursts over 10Mbps."

However, AT&T is launching 4G service next year using the rival LTE standard, which T-Mobile and Verizon are reportedly planning to back too. According to a March report in our sister publication eWEEK, even Sprint believes LTE will become the bigger 4G standard.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse was quoted as telling his audience at the CTIA Wireless show, "LTE will most likely be the larger of the two 4G standards, but for us, we couldn't wait. Because of our spectrum position, we have the option to add other technologies later, but this allows us to get into this technology quickly."

Now, it would appear that Clearwire is mulling a long-term switch to LTE, too. Morrow noted in yesterday's earnings call that Clearwire's agreement with Intel, restricting it from using anything other than WiMAX up to Feb. 2012, has now expired.

Citing an "80 percent similarity" between WiMAX and LTE, Morrow added, "We believe that technology needs to converge as we go forward. Intel, we believe, sees that too."


More information on Clearwire Corporation may be found on the company's website, here. A transcript of the company's Q1 2010 Earnings Call may be found on Seeking Alpha, here.

More information on Qualcomm's Gobi chipsets may be found here, while information on Intel's "Echo Peak" WiMAX adapters may be found here.

eWEEK's March story quoting Sprint CEO Dan Hesse may be found here.

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