Clear's way forward may be with LTE, not WiMAX

Wireless ISP Clear is the nation's biggest proponent of WiMAX. Along with majority shareholder Sprint, the two companies have repeatedly talked up the wireless technology as a solid option in the path to 4G.

That may now be in question. Clear said late Wednesday that it will be testing LTE in two different variations this fall in Phoenix, Arizona, with a decision to move forward coming by the end of the year. Given the company's massive spectrum holdings, it would be able to offer real world speeds far above any other LTE deployment.

Clear says that the possibility is there to be able to offer speeds of between 20 and 70Mbps, much faster than the 5 to 12Mbps currently promised by its potential competitors. Those fastest speeds would be made possible by using 40MHz of spectrum across two 20MHz channels. It would also test a setup using only one channel, as well as using WiMAX and LTE concurrently.

Analysts believe that Clear could have a working LTE network in place by 2012 if the tests go as planned.

"As we have consistently stated, we remain technology agnostic, but WiMAX provides us with unique advantages to meet the needs of our customers today," chief technology officer Dr. John Saw said. "Part of our technical due diligence at Clearwire is to be prepared to leverage a number of possible opportunities as we future-proof our network, and that's the goal of these tests."

Its reasoning for looking into LTE may be financial too: supporting that technology could open it up to partner with a wireless carrier, of which T-Mobile USA has been mentioned. CEO Bill Morrow told the Wall Street Journal that the nation's fourth biggest carrier could either be an investor or partner depending on how those talks proceed.

That carrier is a natural fit given it has been traditionally spectrum starved, and needs something that could differentiate it from competitors -- in this case a super-fast LTE deployment.

Either way, the company needs funding to build out its current WiMAX network and move past its goal to cover 120 million potential customers in the US by the end of the year. A move away from only one technology may be a requirement in order for it to stay financially sound and competitive against traditional wireless providers.

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