No Surprise: Clearwire to shift from WiMAX to LTE – But Who WIll Fund It?

LTE is now being deployed in the US by Verizon Wireless and Metro PCS, with AT&T and LightSquared to follow (the latter’s LTE deployment depends on resolving the GPS interference issue with the FAA and other U.S. government regulators).

Clearwire had announced last year that it had begun testing LTE technology in Phoenix, AZ.  Those Clearwire LTE tests achieved data speeds of 120 megabits per second – 10 times faster than the fastest networks currently in operation. So we predicted at that time that Clearwire would opt for LTE rather than IEEE 802.16m (AKA WiMAX 2.0).  Now its for certain.

Today, Clearwire’s CEO John Stanton said that the company’s new LTE network would initially target densely populated urban areas in its existing 4G markets where current 4G usage is highest. It said it will be able to use its existing WiMax infrastructure in these markets to serve the company’s LTE needs, delivering substantial capital cost savings compared with similar rollouts by rival operators.

“Our leadership in launching 4G services forced a major change in the competitive mobile data landscape,” Mr. Stanton said. “Now we plan to bring our considerable spectrum portfolio to bear to deliver an LTE network capable of meeting the future demands of the market.”

John Saw, Clearwire’s chief technology officer, said: “Our extensive trial has clearly shown that our ‘LTE Advanced-ready’ network design, which leverages our deep spectrum with wide channels, can achieve far greater speeds and capacity than any other network that exists today.

“In addition, the 2.5GHz spectrum band in which we operate is widely allocated worldwide for 4G deployments, enabling a potentially robust, cost-effective and global ecosystem that could serve billions of devices.”

In a sideswipe seemingly aimed at rival LightSquared, he added: “Since we currently support millions of customers in the 2.5GHz band, we know that our LTE network won’t present harmful interference issues with GPS or other sensitive spectrum bands.”

Clearwire said its LTE implementation will use Time Division Duplex (TDD) LTE technology. The LTE deployment will take advantage of the company’s all-IP network architecture and will involve upgrading base station radios and some core network elements. Clearwire said it will use multicarrier, or multichannel, wideband radios that will be carrier-aggregation capable.

A key question is where will Clearwire get the needed capital to buld the planned LTE-TDD network?  The company said that plans to build the new LTE network “are subject to raising additional capital,” which has been a problem for Clearwire for the past three years. Furthermore, Clearwire states that it will need “substantial additional capital” to continue running its WiMax network “over the intermediate and long-term,” although the company says it currently has enough capital to maintain and operate the network “for at least the next 12 months.”

Here is what CEO Stanton said about LTE during today’s earnings call;

Based on the success and insights from our now completed Phoenix trial, we plan to add LTE services to our present network in areas with high usage concentration where we can meet the needs of our current partners and other major carriers. Our carrier customers would use LTE capacity to supplement their offerings.

LTE will be implemented by overlaying most of our existing 4G network. We will not use Sprint’s project vision in our existing markets because it is substantially more expensive compared to the cost of overlaying our own network. We are in discussions with Sprint about using vision in new build markets in the future.

We plan to maintain the WiMAX network for a significant period of time to serve our present customers. We believe WiMAX will continue to represent an appealing product for certain market segments.

There are two key reasons we can implement this strategy, our spectrum and our network. We have the largest, deepest spectrum position in the industry on the best and only globally coordinated band, differentiating ourselves from any other carrier or want-to-be 4G operator.

With an average of 160 megahertz of spectrum nationwide, we have more spectrum than even AT&T and T-Mobile combined. With all of our spectrum in one contiguous band, our spectrum depth enables us to deploy wider channels or fatter pipes to enhance the throughput speed and capacity.

Spectrum in the 2.5 gigahertz band is ideally suited for high-volume wireless data. High-frequency spectrum is much more conducive than low- or mid-band spectrum to meeting the usage and speed requirements of heavy tonnage users in densely populated markets.

The 2.5 gigahertz band is also the sweet spot of global TDD LTE evolution. Earlier this year, Clearwire cofounded the GTI consortium with China Mobile, Vodafone, SoftBank and Bharti. Clearwire was the only American carrier included in the consortium. The members of this consortium serve more than 1.3 billion customers, representing 4x the population of the U.S. This means that this group will be driving the lowest possible cost and greatest variety of devices.”

Opinion:  Clearwire’s announced plans for LTE along with Sprint overt hints that it will also deploy that technology sounds the death bell for mobile WiMAX.  It almost guarantees that IEEE 802.16m- WiMax 2.0- will be DoA.

Who is to blame for this market failure?   I’ll give you three guesses, but the 1st two don’t count!