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Madison, Wisc., gets one of first full-scale, full-on WiMax deployments: TDS Telecom (1.2m voice lines, 171K DSL lines), a sister company with US Cellular (6m customers, 26 states), rolls out licensed mobile WiMax, albeit in a fixed configuration. The service covers 55,000 households and 10,000 businesses in Madison with service at up to 6 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The combination of voice and data makes this a first in the U.S., although there are other early WiMax data networks deployed.
Residential service is $50/mo. for 2 Mbps symmetrical with phone service, $55 for 4 Mbps, and $60 for 6 Mbps. Dropping phone service cuts $5 per month, and there’s a $10/mo. bundle discount for the first three months. Business service starts at $129/mo. based on contract length. The WiMax receiver will have a two-hour continuously charged battery backup to preserve voice and data during brief power outages. No mention is made of setup costs or minimum residential service term commitments in the pricing document.
They have seven towers deployed, although the precise number in use is a little confusing: a map shows five running, two still in progress, while the press release mentions six towers at one point and seven at another. Each tower has a two-mile radius of coverage, they say, while their licensed are will allow them a total 35 mile radius around Madison. They’re using Alvarion 802.16e 4Motion equipment, but in a fixed not mobile configuration at launch; the hardware is upgradable later to seamless handoffs.
The company’s press release says that service installation requires a visit from a technician. This is typically the case with all new broadband. When I had DSL installed by then-US West in 1997, it meant a truckroll. Just a couple years later, self-install was the name of the game. The rule in telcos—that I read in a DSL textbook, of all places—is that services have to move to 95 percent self-install, 5 percent truckroll, at worst to become profitable and correctly priced offerings.
A few days of testing with Clearwire’s new PC Card offering leaves me optimistic about mobile WiMax: While the card uses Expedience, the pre-WiMax offering that Clearwire’s former hardware division uses for all its equipment, I saw performance higher than using any other form of wireless networking except Wi-Fi in a fixed indoor location in my testing. I drove around Seattle and used the card in a car, with a booster, without, and in indoor locations. In most cases, I saw at or near the top rate. With the included external antenna, I was able to get over 1.6 Mbps downstream. Upstream rates are, as promised, about 256 Kbps or slower, and that’s something they need to improve.
With full-on, true mobile WiMax expected to deliver substantially higher rates for mobile and nomadic purposes, it’s possible Clearwire has a winner. Read my full review for how I expect that to play out and more detail about how the card works. (The review appears as part of a series of items I’m writing for a group blog on holiday gift gadgets.)
The Wall Street Journal reports the deal for a joint mobile WiMax network is off between Sprint Nextel, Clearwire: That doesn’t mean either company is abandoning plans, nor that the two won’t forge a new deal. But with the departure of Sprint’s head due to a lack of confidence in his initiatives, it’s hard to see how an interim CEO could sign off on something that might last for years or even decades.
The deal between the two firms was for them to use complementary spectrum holdings and carry out spectrum swaps to create nonoverlapping network buildouts that would cover the whole country. Sprint would also allow Clearwire to resell its 3G EVDO network, a critical stage in building a roaming business audience. The complementary buildout would prevent double building, and provide the full set of frequencies in each market needed to ensure the highest data rates.
The Journal reports that some of Clearwire’s partners—Intel, Motorola, and Samsung—might “try to inject financing into Clearwire” to keep the WiMax network buildout on track. Intel and Motorola previously put in hundreds of millions.
Clearwire started selling its nomadic PC Card today for its current flavor of pre-WiMax service: The card sells for $230 or can be leased for $7 per month. Service is 1.5 Mbps down and 256 Kbps, and costs $60 per month. If you want both home and nomadic service, it’s $95 per month including all modem rental fees, with an introductory $80 per month rate for three months. The home service is $45 per month when sold separately, so it’s a good deal.
This service is nomadic, meaning that while it might work when in motion, it’s designed for fixed operation within the service area.
It’s time to ask the question after the resignation this afternoon of Gary Forsee as chairman and CEO of Sprint Nextel: What becomes of WiMax? Sprint Nextel’s giant leap and giant spectrum holdings led to Intel, Motorola, and Samsung committing to technology previously only on the roadmap in the U.S. of startup Clearwire. Forsee certainly led the move into WiMax as Sprint’s 4G technology of choice. With his departure, prompted by shareholder complaints in the face of subscriber defections, lackluster revenue, and a long wait for a payoff of the current plans, will WiMax survive on the chopping block?
Sprint conceivably owns several billion dollars worth of 2.5 GHz licenses. I’m not sure how they’re valued in the current marketplace nor how freely transferrable most licenses are. Because Sprint acquired most of its licenses outside of the educational market, they may have substantially fewer constraints on transferring them.
The company is still coping with the ongoing liabilities associated with sorting out their scattered spectrum holdings that Nextel pledged to pull together to create contiguous ranges for public safety. That’s in disarray, with costs far higher than anticipated, and Sprint Nextel holding firm and delaying plans.
If Sprint focused on its partnership with cell companies, recommitted to the EVDO 3G to 4G roadmap, and sold its 2.5 GHz holdings, perhaps that would satisfy investors and put them back on the map as a competitor. But it’s hard for me to see the advantage. Who would buy the holdings? Another carrier, ostensibly. Clearwire has $1b in the bank, hardly enough to buy all of Sprint’s licenses. (Clearwire and Sprint are past the 90 days predicted to finalize their complementary network and roaming deal, too.)
As might be recalled, a good hunk of the 2.5 GHz that Clearwire and Sprint Nextel “own” is sublet from academic and other institutions which originally received allocations for distance learning, among other purposes: Ah for the days when sweet, prime spectrum was given away without a purpose being set in stone. Congress allowed the institutions that were granted these licenses to sell them as a sort of non-auction backdoor that’s resulted in the holdings primarily in the hands of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire today.
Many institutions apparently forgot they had the spectrum, and has the value has become known have filed renewal notices, both on time and late. Apparently, some lapsed licenses if renewed would impinge on other coverage areas, which doesn’t exactly make sense to me since 2.5 GHz licenses were assigned on a frequency and geographically divided basis. There must have been some multiple licenses in the same areas who were supposed to work out conflicts.
Clearwire, which has more of these licenses, Marketwatch reports, wants the expired licenses renewed, because, they say, that would speed the way to getting that spectrum in use. Sprint not so much, as they apparently think they have an advantage in their spectrum portfolio. Clearwire and Sprint will build out a network jointly, if the government approves, but I imagine revenue splits and roaming may be based on coverage areas. The less Clearwire has, the more Sprint can sell to what would have been Clearwire customers.
This article also notes that a lawsuit against the Peralta Community College District was settled with Peralta receiving more fees than originally agreed to. Peralta had alleged a side agreement with Clearwire that would have provided more than the main agreement promised. The suit was filed in mid-2006. The license was their only viable San Francisco Bay Area spectrum at the time.
Sounds like a former mantra: The Xohm service will be resold by both Clearwire and Sprint, pending regulatory and other approval. The Seattle Times says that the branding will likely appear as “Xohm from Sprint” and “Clearwire, powered by Xohm.” Clearwire will continue to sell under its own name internationally. Sprint announced the name at an investor and press event, where they also stated that WiMax service will reach 100m people by the end of 2008, with Clearwire building out service for 30m of that 100m. In 2010, Sprint expects $2.5b in revenue from WiMax.
They’ll spend $2.5b through 2008 on building the network, and an equal amount to add just 25m more people by 2010. It’s clear that there is low-hanging fruit as it’s unclear why Sprint would budget the same sum to cover such disparate numbers of people. I checked several news sources, and they all appear to back each other up on the dollar figure and population covered.
In a major move, Clearwire and Sprint Nextel will allow roaming across mobile WiMax networks; also Clearwire to Sprint’s 3G network: This is a massive development, ensuring the potential financial viability of mobile WiMax as an alternative to cell data and perhaps to slower flavors of wired broadband. It’s not guaranteed in any way that the market will wind up profitable nor that mobile WiMax will work as these firms expect when deployed widely in the field. But without this move, there would have been many more hurdles to cross.
The two firms will apparently swap licenses in markets where they overlap, and build an entirely nonoverlapping network with about 180m people covered by Sprint and 120m by Clearwire. This is akin to how early U.S. GSM providers agreed to build parts of their network to jumpstart GSM coverage.
While mobile WiMax roaming between the two firms was always a possibility, the fact that Sprint Nextel will allow Clearwire customers to roam onto their 3G EVDO network was a surprise to me. That means that Clearwire had enough to offer Sprint that they were willing to take this extraordinary move. The Wall Street Journal suggests that Sprint investors, nervous about the scale of investment in this untested technology, will have fears allayed by a deal that will rise all boats while giving Sprint national coverage for the network.
This is the most positive development for the future of mobile WiMax, and for a viable additional pipe to the home and mobile workers. It may also let some of the air out of city-wide Wi-Fi.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Sprint Nextel and Clearwire may agree to allow roaming by their customers across each other’s network: This could dramatically improve the chances for mobile WiMax to take off, as it would ensure that each firm’s customers didn’t hit huge service holes in areas in which their provider lacked licenses.
Sprint clearly retains a strong lead in the total amount of spectrum held—at one time, valued at 85 percent of the available licenses—while Clearwire has done a good job in extending its geographic reach. The Journal says the two firms might create a joint venture to pool assets, or might swap spectrum holdings in some markets.
Clearwire has only one technology in its arsenal. Sprint said at its 4G network launch that it would offer adapters for mobile users that would support both 3G EVDO and mobile WiMax. That gave them a fallback position for their business traveler market.
The Wall St Journal reports that Sprint Nextel is looking at financing options for WiMax service: The company has committed $3b to the rollout, and may need to spinoff the WiMax unit and form a partnership with Clearwire. That would provide a massive amount of licensing power, and vastly reduce the competitive framework between the two operators. Sprint might also create a “more modest partnership” with Clearwire. Sprint might also look for outside financing, notably from MSOs (multiple system operators, or cable TV giants), with which they already have a relationship for reselling cellular service.
The article makes a few mistakes. While it notes that Clearwire currently uses a WiMax-like technology, the company’s path is for actual WiMax in 2008. That should have been noted, as it’s key in terms of integration between Sprint and Clearwire. Second, the chart showing a comparison of options between WiMax and 3G services has several problems. First, the bandwidth comparison doesn’t note that it’s downstream speeds only. Second, 3G networks using EVDO Rev. A, which is now extensively but not completely deployed by Verizon and Sprint, can reach 850 Kbps as a routine speed with peaks over 2 Mbps. The WiMax speed is noted as an absolute. Third, comparing 3G to DSL and WiMax to cable is absurd. DSL is routinely available at rates from 1.5 Mbps to 6 Mbps. Cable is typically only available at high starting points, but pricing is often in parity with similar DSL offerings.
Om Malik points out at GigaOm that the Sprint/Nextel merger may be the hidden cause of these plans, as the integration between the two firms has proven problematic. Nextel, however, had a large spectrum portfolio, and it was clear that was one of Sprint’s big motivations.
The company is migrating from proprietary gear to mobile WiMax over time: Their 15 sq. mi. test in Oregon in Intel country—one of the big backers of mobile WiMax—was apparently successful. The next phase grows to 145 sq. mi. The test covered coverage, capacity, and speed, the firm said. They say they’re on track to deliver mobile WiMax in 2008.
The current Clearwire technology has a bottom line performance about half the speed expected from the entry-level mobile WiMax offering, and uses technology manufactured by Motorola through a former division of Clearwire sold to that electronics giant.
The significance of mobile WiMax is not just faster speeds or greater distances. Rather, the promise is that with major equipment makers such as Intel, Samsung, and Motorola committed to producing gear in quantity, and with two providers rolling out in this country and others in South Korea, that the cost of getting the network running and customers equipped will be low enough to compete with 3G cellular data networks and their continual upgrades.
That remains to be seen, as the news anchors like to say.
Still, a publicly held firm declaring success on trials sets a legal bar for them if they later were to have trouble that was predicted at this stage.
Clearwire can resell the Expedience PC Card from Motorola: The card will offer 1.5 Mbps downstream and 128 Kbps upstream according to sources. Pricing hasn’t yet been set, but it’s likely that Clearwire will establish home areas and charge a monthly roaming fee to access out-of-metro-area services. The card is not WiMax, and you’ll note the press release talks about “WiMax class” products and networks. It uses the NextNet Expedience technology, a proprietary standard that runs Clearwire’s current network, and which was part of what Clearwire spun off to Motorola with the NextNet sale.
Sprint Nextel announces more build-out plans, equipment details for its mobile WiMax “4G” network: The firm said it has chosen Samsung to build PC Cards that exchange data over the new network, which will launch in late 2007, and pass 100m people by the end of next year. The PC Cards will be either WiMax-only or support both the 3G EVDO network and the WiMax network. Two other firms will also supply gear: ZTE will make PC Cards and “modems,” which I take to mean external adapters, something like Clearwire’s fixed/nomadic receiver; and Zyxel, which will make just modems.
Sprint provided a long list of metro areas that it would cover in 2008 with the new service. News.com notes that Chicago and Baltimore/D.C. were already announced to receive early coverage at the end of this year. In early 2008, the company will roll out Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, otherwise known as AT&T’s key turf. The new announcement mentions more than a dozen additional metro areas, including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Seattle—but notably not San Francisco or New York.
Each of Sprint’s major network equipment partners will build out a distinct set of cities split among Motorola, Samsung, and Nokia. The News.com article features the details on which vendor builds which cities.
Alvarion’s BreezeMax with 802.16e is ready for business: The company has been testing their latest version with customer around the world. BreezeMax is part of their 4Motion system, which supports Open WiMax, a way for vendors to interoperate, Alvarion says. BreezeMax works in 2.3, 2.5, and 3.5 GHz.
David Haskin writes about the potential for mobile WiMax to compete with and beat out 3G: Sprint appears to be the only carrier with the spectrum portfolio to make mobile WiMax work; Clearwire has admittedly a lot less spectrum, and as a new entrant, it’s unclear where in the heap they’ll wind up, this article suggests. If mobile WiMax’s speeds are to be believed, even the latest cell data revisions should considerably lag the 1 Mbps up and 2 to 4 Mbps down.
Haskin quotes Sprint being pretty optimistic—citing Ali Tabassi (once with Wi-Fi hotspot pioneer MobileStar) noting that the company is on track to launch two cities in 2007 and cover 100m people in 2008.
The FCC required AT&T to sell off 2.5 GHz spectrum as part of its acquisition of BellSouth: Clearwire gets the prize spectrum, which probably also brings it into a closer relationship with AT&T. The deal is for $300m in cash. The 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses and leases were owned by BellSouth across its nine-state territory. The Seattle Times reports that Clearwire will boost its spectrum holdings with this purchase by 14.2 percent, and revised its estimate of population covered to 214m, up from about 200m just a few weeks ago. Carol Ellison at MuniWireless.com reminds us that Clearwire founder Craig McCaw sold AT&T a pile of cellular spectrum in 1994 for $13b, making his first fortune.
The story is a bit complex, but it’s apparently a first: Nortel, Kyocera Wireless, and Runcom worked together to create the lab conditions to place a call using MIMO-equipped WiMax equipment. It’s all prototype gear, but it involved three different firms working together to produce the call, which included voice and streaming video. Nortel is heavily pushing MIMO-based WiMax; current WiMax standards don’t require MIMO, but there’s an expectation that it will be a significant part of wide-scale rollouts within a few years. MIMO buys you frequency reuse and greater range with relatively few penalties compared to simple omnidirectional antennas.
As rumored earlier, Nokia will be one of Sprint’s three equipment vendors for its $3b WiMax deployment: GigaOm reports that while Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola will all supply infrastructure and end-user equipment, the division of that $3b budget is unknown.
Clearwire now passes 205m US, 117m European customers: In their revised filing today for an initial public offering of stock, the company reveals their current spectrum holding position. A month ago, they were coy, probably in anticipation of this filing. When I spoke to two heads of the firm for their Greater Seattle area, I asked if the 90m people passed figure was accurate, wondering about their competitive position relative to Sprint, which claims over 100m people (not households) will be offered their “4G” mobile WiMax service by the end of 2008. Co-CEO Ben Wolf said, “Spectrum footprint dramatically larger than what you referenced earlier,” meaning bigger than 90m people. (This comparison is tricky, because Sprint has discussed deployment footprint, not license holdings.)
On page 3 and 55 of the S1 filing, the company notes that they now own 11.5b MHz-POPs in the U.S. (2.5 GHz band) covering 205m people, and 5.1b MHz-POPs in Europe, covering 117m people. This excludes the recent German auction which adds coverage of 82.5m people, as the licenses were both large (21 MHz each for uplink and downlink) and national. (MHz-POPs are megahertz times population—spectrum bands in megahertz multiplied by local population.) They still have to complete deals that represent a portion of these holdings, they note.
The company also reveals some of their technical decisions on deployment on pages 55-56. They require at least six channels of 5 MHz each to launch service in an area. But they predict that mobile WiMax will provide ever increasing spectral efficiency—both as an evolution in the standard and over their current, proprietary, NextNet technology—resulting in launches that might involve fewer licenses. But they also note that “we could find that new technologies and subscriber usage patterns require us to have more spectrum available in our markets.”
Clearwire currently has deployed service to areas that comprise about 8.5m people in the U.S. and 1m in Europe. But they claim just 188,000 subscribers so far. [link via GigaOm]
Nokia said today that they would offer cell phones with WiMax embedded in 2008: The company will offer base stations with WiMax in 2.5 GHz in 2007, 3.5 GHz in early 2008.
Nortel packs MIMO, WiMax, and IPTV into one system: The company is making huge claims. They’ll deliver video content at 1/10th the cost per bit of 3G cell networks and offer three times the speed and twice the subscriber capacity of non-WiMax competitors. Their system will work in 1.5 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 3.5 GHz bands, making it available worldwide.
The broadband wireless firm Alvarion will offer two products for mobile WiMax in 2.3 and 2.5 GHz bands this fall: The two bands appear to be the prime contenders for roll out in the US, with Sprint, BellSouth, and Clearwire having significant licenses in those bands. (BellSouth and AT&T may be required to sell their 2.3/2.5 GHz licenses to complete a merger, which could open up even more possibility for those bands.)
Two powerful Senators on either side of the aisle propose divestiture of 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz spectrum for AT&T/BellSouth merger to proceed: Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) say that there’s only negative reasons for the combined firm to maintain this bandwidth. By divesting, they ensure more competition. An excellent analysis of this issue was written back in April 2006 by communications attorney Mark Del Bianco for News.com.
As noted in earlier posts, Sprint and Clearwire own the best spectrum for mobile WiMax in the US: Having chosen, each of them, to deploy that technology, it’s quite unlikely that any other firm at present has the right combination of licenses to challenge them in other bands on a national scale. What is possible is that smaller licensed parties that are highly regional could leverage the equipment choices of Sprint and Clearwire that will turn WiMax into a much more highly commodified technology—coupled with Intel’s commitment to package WiMax adapters in future laptops—to deploy small networks.
I don’t know about smaller licenseholders in 2.5 GHz as a class, but there are enough licenses in bits and pieces that it’s possible a rural area might have a provider that opts for mobile WiMax in licensed 2.5 GHz as an alternative to broadband wireless (using current fixed WiMax technology). This is partly because there’s no certification profile yet and may never be a profile for using fixed WiMax in unlicensed spectrum, although there’s some interest in the 5.8 GHz band.
If 2.5 GHz mobile WiMax gear becomes cheap enough, then a small town without competitive Clearwire or Sprint service could find itself with a mobile WiMax provider, but the economics have to be awfully solid. Many of the arguments against Wi-Fi and broadband wireless stem from unlicensed spectrum. But the flaw with licensed spectrum is paying to buy or lease that license. The small town’s FCC licenses for 2.5 GHz might still be too expensive to purchase for a smaller firm even if larger companies aren’t offering service. Or a small firm might roll out service, only to see Clearwire or Sprint activate a network using licenses they hadn’t built out for yet.
It deserves to be emphasized that there are over 300m people in the US: Sprint Nextel claims 100m people will be served by its licensed “4G” service, while Clearwire says that they could reach 90m people. Sprint has more urban licenses; Clearwire, rural and minor markets. There is overlap between them. Thus, the idea that mobile WiMax with this set of licenses will replace 3G is obviously ludicrous.
This gives Verizon somewhat of a leg up in that while they might lag with their next-generation network plans behind a faster rollout by Clearwire and Sprint, and while Sprint will be able to offer multimode 3G/4G devices, Verizon can put all of its effort behind its recently announced commitment to IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem). Cingular, likewise, while having its star hitched to HSDPA (high-speed download packet access), and lagging a bit behind Verizon and Sprint’s 3G footprint, has committed to IMS as part of its evolution. (EVDO and HSDPA aren’t incompatible with IMS; IMS covers the architecture of a network and how data is handled rather than the physical layer. There are some pieces that reach up and down layers, but it’s not odd for CDMA and GSM carriers to both commit to IMS.)
IMS will require an entire revamping of the cellular network to allow an all-IP system, but it could reap huge rewards. More spectrum is needed to take full advantage, but it doesn’t require operating multiple systems—where Sprint has now committed to running and upgrading 3G on the one hand and mobile WiMax on the other. Sprint is planning to roll out EVDO Rev. A by year’s end, and there’s a roadmap for EVDO Rev. B with even faster speeds from Qualcomm. Will Sprint leave the 200m people they can’t serve (with current licenses and plans) with mobile WiMax sitting at Rev. A speeds if Verizon bumps to Rev. B coupled with IMS?
This makes me think that Sprint has spectrum plans up its sleeves. They can’t easily get 2.1 GHz or 2.3 GHz spectrum—BellSouth owns a chunk of 2.3 GHz and little pieces of 2.5 GHz, so those will ultimately be able to be entirely in Cingular’s hands after the AT&T merger with BellSouth completes, and AT&T owns 100% of Cingular and 100% of those licenses.
Sprint Nextel confirms in news conference today they’ll be going with mobile WiMax: This decision has massive repercussions across several multi-billion dollar industries, including chipmaking, adapter manufacturer, consumer mobile, business mobile, and fixed broadband. Sprint had been evaluating several competing technologies while rolling out 3G EVDO service aggressively—first behind Verizon and then catching up.
Sprint and Nextel merged their 2.5 GHz license portfolio, which was one of a few key reasons for their merger, and in the news conference today, they said they could reach 85 percent of the population across 200 major markets in the US with those licenses—about 100m people. They’ll roll out service starting in late 2007, and moving into full deployment in 2008. They’re dubbing this 4G broadband.
What’s interesting about their decision is that they chose mobile WiMax (really 802.16-2005, which includes fixed service, too) not because it was the perfect technology and others failed to live up to promises, but rather because it’s available for development now, it’s already deployed in a similar form in South Korea and is in wide trials, and because there are many vendors already standing behind it. (To learn more about mobile WiMax, listen to this podcast I recorded with WiMax expert and consultant to the WiMax Forum, Monica Paolini.)
Intel, Samsung, and Motorola will work together to provide the equipment and expertise to build out the national network and the chipsets that will drive devices. Further, Samsung and Motorola will build multimode devices for Sprint that will allow switching between 3G (EVDO) and 4G (Mobile WiMax) networks.
Clearwire, which has licenses that allow them to pass about 90m people in the US, will now face strong competition on timetable and devices. Clearwire’s licenses tend to cover smaller markets, which are often underserved with broadband of all kinds. The sale of NextNet to Motorola will now allow Motorola to manufacture gear for Sprint, which seemed to be one of the reasons for NextNet to be sold off—it put money in Clearwire’s pocket while allowing the division to be independent of them.
Intel will also be in the position of providing most recently $600m to Clearwire and yet be a key supplier of equipment know-how to a key competitor. On the other hand, Intel’s goal has been to develop the market, and the more competition potentially the more likelihood of adoption and the more chips sold. Samsung has already been selling a variant on mobile WiMax, called WiBro, in South Korea, and there’s a lot of ongoing work to align WiBro and mobile WiMax into a single technology profile.
Today’s announcement vindicates a multi-year effort on Intel’s part to promote mobile WiMax as an evolutionary next step to cellular networks with Qualcomm as their key rival in this matter. This doesn’t edge Qualcomm out entirely, as I could see handheld and laptops having Wi-Fi, 3G, and 4G built in for the various purposes that each technology is best. Coverage will remain an issue with 4G, where 3G could eventually cover 95% of the US population and 4G may be limited in some areas or have a single provider across large territories, especially in less populated areas.
In today’s news conference, Barry West, the president of their new 4G Mobile Broadband division, and CTO for Sprint Nextel, said quite bluntly that they liked Qualcomm’s Flarion technology and IP Wireless’s approach just fine, but both had problems with immediate rollouts. They tried other cell standards, too.
Flarion supports only FDD (frequency division duplexing) at present and they don’t like the current maximum band limit, which I couldn’t hear clearly on the call, but I believe is 1.25 MHz in some combinations or 5 MHz. This conforms to CDMA2000 1x divisions and they work within existing cell banding. West said he was sure Qualcomm could meet their needs, but they weren’t there right now. (West said he prefer TDD (time division duplexing) with their bands, which means allocating space for uplink or downlink as needed using timing instructions rather than allocating frequencies on a fixed basis, regardless of traffic, for up- and downlink.)
IPWireless tested out fine for Sprint, but they had no “ecosystem,” a word used many times in the call. HSDPA (high-speed packet download access) was interesting, but a big switch for them being a GSM evolution. And 3G LTE (long-term evolution) is truly a long-term technology, with West estimating a time to market of 2010 to 2012. LTE (also called Super 3G) could achieve 100 Mbps downstream and extremely low latency.
Mobile WiMax becomes the best choice, in West’s evaluation, because they can start working today to build a network by year’s end with a high degree of reliance that equipment will be ready and it will work as expected. The Intel, Samsung, and Motorola partnerships provide them enough diversity in this first rollout to switch trains if one company falls behind in one area.
Sprint will invest $1b in 2007 and $1.5b to $2b in 2008 on this network.
A license in California that Clearwire claims to have a signed contract for has jumped in value from $1.8 to $18m dollars: Clearwire is suing the Peralta Community College District because Clearwire alleges the district has broken a contract signed a few months. The district alleges that a side agreement was required and never provided, and thus it’s free to shop around. Tricia Duryee of The Seattle Times reports that an attorney representing the district said they “understood” that the value was now $18m. This is the only license Clearwire acquired in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 2.5 GHz range in which it intends to roll out its broadband wireless service.
The judge in the case signed a preliminary injunction preventing Peralta from negotiating with other parties (Sprint Nextel? BellSouth? None of the above?). The case could get underway before the end of the year. Given the sums at stake, I wonder if Clearwire and Peralta will forego the millions in legal fees and simply agree on a higher value for the license?
The stakes are high for the 2.5 GHz band: Clearwire has sued Peralta Community College District (06-03808 in the North District Court of California) because it alleges that Peralta has violated an executed agreement providing a long-term lease of a valuable license. Many 2.5 GHz licenses are held by educational bodies which were authorized several years ago by Congress to lease these out. The licenses were originally intended for educational broadcast services.
Peralta alleges Clearwire never provided a side agreement spelling out additional fees and such for the lease. I’ve read the filings and Clearwire’s case is based on their allegation that Peralta executed a contract that doesn’t state anything about a side agreement, and thus is complete and full. They also allege that Peralta is trying to terminate the agreement while also maintaining the agreement wasn’t really executed in order to sell the spectrum to another higher bidder.
Clearwire states that this license is the only viable, available license for the San Francisco Bay Area, and that they would use this license to provide service in Oakland and surrounding areas. The first of many fights, I expect, when billions are on the line.
In an interesting development, BellSouth will roll out more WiMax in several cities in the third quarter: The current equipment is pre-WiMax, offering 1.5 Mbps over 128 to 384 Kbps, but the future service should use full WiMax-grade equipment and provide 3 Mbps downstream, according to Multichannel News. They’re using WiMax to fill in uncovered urban and rural areas, rather than let this spots be cherrypicked by other providers. The deployments will be in Albany, Geor.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Greenville, Miss.; and Melbourne, Flor.
The article notes BellSouth is using its 2.3 GHz licenses except in Athens, Geor., where it lacks that spectrum and uses some of its much smaller 2.5 GHz holdings. They’re using Navini equipment now, and will test Alcatel’s 802.16-2005 gear in the full. But they don’t expect to see a full rollout of 802.16-2005 equipment until late 2007 or into 2008.
I’d also argue that BellSouth is deploying service so that when their licenses come up for renewal next year, they have some investment in the band.
Craig McCaw’s broadband wireless firm Clearwire raises $600m from Intel Capital, $300m from others: The latest revolutionary wireless firm founded by McCaw aims to deploy mobile broadband wireless worldwide using mobile WiMax (part of 802.16e-2005). Part of the money comes from Motorola purchasing Clearwire’s NextNet equipment subsidiary, which has been manufacturing and prototyping gear for Clearwire’s network, starting with customer premises equipment (CPE), or the fixed receivers plugged in at homes.
Clearwire owns the second-largest portfolio of spectrum in the desirable 2.5 GHz band in the U.S.; Sprint Nextel is the biggest holder. This is a great band into which to deploy mobile WiMax because of the geographic coverage—Clearwire says that they can reach 90m residents with current licenses—and the channelization, which is wide enough to allow sufficient bandwidth for real mobile applications, including video. (While BellSouth owns a chunk in 2.5 GHz, their biggest holdings are in 2.3 GHz. They are already looking at equipment that would offer WiMax or WiMax-like services in both bands. This spectrum is part of AT&T-formerly-SBC’s desire to purchase BellSouth, which would also give AT&T 100-percent ownership of Cingular, and allow more combined offerings there across DSL, cell data/3G, and WiMax.)
Intel has had a chicken-and-egg problem with its backing of WiMax, particularly the mobile and portable/nomadic form, in that they need networks to drive interest in the chips they plan to include in their laptop reference designs. By investing this heavily in Clearwire, they’ve basically guaranteed that a network will be built. This also seeds more interest in competing networks, and puts the cellular operators on notice that Intel is not their partner, if they ever harbored such a suspicion. In fact, Clearwire could offer competitive voice services over their network using handsets with mobile WiMax built in.
Intel is slated to ship Rosedale 2 chips by the end of the year, according to Light Reading, which will offer both older fixed (802.16-2004) and newer fixed/portable/mobile (802.16-2005) support. They’ll also make Ofer-R available for Wi-Fi and WiMax support in portable and handheld devices.
Way back at the Centrino introduction, Intel told me that future Centrino wireless chipsets would incorporate Wi-Fi and cellular data standards. That never happened. Instead, Intel discovered the wonders of a newly competitive marketplace that they thought could evolve worldwide in which they could have a stake and a say in its operation and standards development. Intel has been a big force in WiMax from many angles, this being just the latest.
Clearwire gives up its numbers in exchange for market dollars: The latest Craig McCaw-led company likely to become a billion-dollar operation is Clearwire, a provide of broadband wireless using equipment from its acquired subsidiary NextNet Wireless. The company has received over $1b in financing over several years, resulting in deployment in 27 markets in the US, plus Belgium and Ireland. Their IPO filing shows 88,000 US subscribers and 11,500 in Belgium and Ireland. It lost $140m on revenues of $33.5m last year, but might need to spend billions to provide national service.
Clearwire owns the second largest position in the 2.5 GHz BRS band; Sprint Nextel was number one, and remember who turned Nextel into a powerhouse, partly because of clever spectrum acquisition and usage? Om Malik notes that Sprint Nextel and Clearwire have been swapping licenses to produce better national coverage for each. The Seattle Times notes that the IPO filing says Clearwire could “pass” 90m users based on its spectrum holdings.
Read their Form S-1 for all the details.
Unstrung reports on what they term one of the most significant WiMax installations to date: The report says that Muskegon County will have WiMax-based broadband wireless service from Arialink Wireless. The company is financing part of the operation; state and federal grants are also involved. The base service is 3 Mbps for $18.99 per month, and the company will use Samsung’s early 802.16e equipment. The 802.16e standard incorporates fixed, nomadic (portable but fixed in use), and mobile WiMax, although there’s still a lot of work to be done to create a certified, interoperable version for general release.
The broadband firm will install base station on 16 towers along with 110 microcells on buildings and utility poles and use the 2.5 GHz band, which is largely owned by Sprint Nextel and Clearwire.
The article does contain the extraordinary statement: “Unlike other networks that vendors have called “pre-WiMax,” says Schreiber, the Muskegon system will be fully compliant with the new 802.16e standard.”
Pre-WiMax or WiMax-ready has typically referred to the 802.16-2004 standard (incorporating 802.16 through 802.16d) rather than 802.16e. And many of the 802.16-2004 compliant systems, including some that are now fully certified in the first wave of WiMax Forum testing, claimed full compliance with 802.16-2004.