Clearwire launches new WiMAX beta in Portland, Oregon

With beta tests of WiMAX in Baltimore/Washington and Chicago under way, Clearwire is now conducting a test in Portland, Oregon, and preparing commercial deployments in Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Grand Rapids for 2009, BetaNews has learned.

Clearwire is readying WiMAX wireless deployments in four more US cities this year which will use equipment from Motorola, said Jeff Orr, a senior analyst with the Maravedis market research firm, during an e-mail Q&A with BetaNews this week.

"By the end of this year, we are poised to make service available in our first four WiMAX markets -- Portland, OR; Las Vegas, NV; Atlanta, GA; and Grand Rapids, MI -- with commercial launches taking place [in those four cities] in 2009," confirmed a Clearwire spokesperson today, in an e-mail to BetaNews.

"[But] I would like to emphasize that while Clearwire and Sprint announced a transaction to merge our WiMAX businesses, the deal is still pending approval. Until the transaction is closed, we will continue to operate as separate companies and therefore our networks are separate as well," according to the spokesperson.

The spokesperson acknowledged that Clearwire is now under way with "a small beta trial" in Portland, Oregon. "The mobile WiMAX technology continues to exceed our expectations. To date, more than 70 percent of our WiMAX sites for Portland are in construction or on air," she said.

"We are building the WiMAX network in the three additional markets - Las Vegas, Grand Rapids, Atlanta - but we don't have any beta trials under way [in those three cities] at this time."

Clearwire also has more than 443,000 "pre-WiMAX" wireless commercial subscribers in 50 US and European markets that might some day be converted into commercial WiMAX customers.

As previously reported in BetaNews, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has been talking publicly since at least February about Sprint's current activities with Samsung in the Washington, DC/Baltimore and Chicago areas around beta tests of its Xohm WiMAX network, a budding rival to emerging 4G wireless networks from AT&T and Verizon. In mid-May, Sprint announced intentions for a commercial launch of WiMAX in Washington, DC/Baltimore by the end of this year.

Also in May, Sprint and Clearwire renewed a previously tabled WiMAX agreement for Xohm, combining their WiMAX holdings in a new venture funded by $3.2 billion in investments from Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner, and Bright House Networks.

Unlike Clearwire's emerging WiMAX networks in Oregon, Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan -- which are being outfitted with standards-compliant WiMAX equipment from Motorola -- Clearwire's "pre-WiMAX" networks use proprietary, "WiMAX-like" gear, BetaNews was told.

Motorola holds the market lead in equipment deployed in both BWA/WiMAX customer premise equipment (CPE) and base stations, Orr maintained, during a teleconference with customers and journalists earlier this week.

As of the end of the first quarter of 2008, Clearwire's pre-WiMax wireless customers numbered 443,000, but subscriber numbers have been rising.

"Pre-WiMAX refers to subscribers on equipment that pre-dates WiMAX standards, but offers similar capabilities or addresses similar market needs. The deployed Clearwire network in the U.S. uses Motorola Expedience radios. These radios are not based on the IEEE 802.16 protocol, [but] rather a proprietary air interface developed by NextNet," Orr said, in a follow-up e-mail to BetaNews.

"NextNet was an equipment manufacturer that supplied the radio equipment to Clearwire and other wireless ISPs. NextNet was acquired by Clearwire and became their hardware division. As part of Intel's initial big investment in Clearwire along with Motorola, the NextNet business was sold to Motorola, who continues to offer those products for legacy operators. In parallel, Motorola has developed the Moto wi4 product family that is based on 802.16e-2005 standards. This is the same equipment that Clearwire is [using in] its four WiMAX cities," according to the analyst.

Affirmed the Clearwire spokesperson: "The 443,000 customers aren't beta testing WiMAX. Instead, they are pre-WiMAX customers that are utilizing the Expedience technology platform. These customers are based in our 50 markets throughout the U.S. and Europe. Clearwire's first WiMAX markets will include Portland, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Grand Rapids."

Orr said that Maravedis tracks worldwide WiMAX deployments through a service it runs called WiMAXCounts, which combines primary research such as phone interviews, e-mail questionnaires, and direct feedback from wireless operators with secondary research such as press releases and financial reports issued by operators and their partners.

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