AT&T to complete high-speed 3G wireless network buildout by 2009

AT&T Mobility says it will step up its 3G buildout, expanding its high-speed mobile service to more than 80 additional cities in 2008. The planned expansion will provide AT&T 3rd generation (3G) high-speed data services to nearly 350 leading U.S. markets by the end of 2008, including all of the top 100 U.S. cities. The initiative will entail rolling out 1,500+ additional cell sites in the U.S. The AT&T 3G network now delivers downlink (download) speeds between 600 and 1,400 Kilobits per second (Kbps) and uplink (upload) speeds between 500 and 800 Kbps.

AT&T also plans to complete the deployment of High Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) by the middle of 2008. HSUPA provides higher uplink speeds and is the next step in the evolution of AT&T’s 3G network that will the transition to High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) standards. With this change, AT&T will catch up to Verizon and Sprint in terms of high speed wireless coverage. In fact, AT&T may even have faster uploads with HSUPA than Verizon or Sprint has with their EV-DO Rev A network.

Currently, there are multiple 3G technologies used by different wireless carriers in the U.S. AT&T uses HSPA that is based on W-CDMA technology, while Verizon, Sprint, Alltel, and U.S. Cellular, use CDMA2000 1xEV-DO technology. Sprint is also building another high-speed wireless network based on WiMAX, which was recently classified as a 3G technology. For 4th generation (4G) services, AT&T will use a technology named Long Term Evolution (LTE), a 4th generation technology that is still in the ‘development’ stage. Verizon too has announced that it will use LTE as its 4G technology, which will align it closely with its half-parent Vodafone, which mainly operates in Europe and Asia.

Verizon Wireless selects LTE as 4th Generation Wireless Technology

verizon_wireless_logo.jpgVerizon Wireless has confirmed plans to use Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology as its 4th Generation (4G) technology. Today, Verizon Wireless uses CDMA2000 technology and most of the rest of the world (including Verizon Wireless’ European half-parent Vodafone Group Plc.) uses W-CDMA (also called UMTS) for 3G services. These two technologies are similar but are not compatible.

With this move, Verizon Wireless will have a cellular technology compatibility with Vodafone, thus facilitating better operational synergies for the two companies as well as making it much easier and cheaper for subscribers that travel Internationally between the US, where Verizon Wireless operates, and Vodafones coverage areas in Europe and Asia.

Also, this move could be a blow to Qualcomm, the developer of the CDMA2000 technology, because Qualcomm has a very strong position in CDMA2000 as the primary (only?) chip vendor and holder of the majority of Intellectual Property but has a much less Intellectual Property and marketshare as a potential chip vendor in LTE.

Qualcomm has been working on a rival next generation technology known as Ultra Mobile Broadband, but 3GPP, one of the main standards bodies developing 3rd and 4th Generation technologies, recently selected LTE as its 4G migration path. According to the CDG, there are 400 million CDMA2000 and 21 million CDMAOne (IS-95) subscribers worldwide. Verizon Wireless currently has 64 million subs (mostly CDMA2000) or about 15% of the worldwide base. Losing 15% of the market in the future is significant but even more significant because it may compel other wireless operators to ditch the CDMA2000 4G migration path in favor of LTE. This move also could be a blow to WiMax, a rival 3G technology supported by Sprint Nextel that was recently designated as a 3G technology.

The Verizon Wireless and Vodafone will begin testing LTE technology in 2008 with equipment suppliers Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Motorola Inc., Nokia- Siemens, and Nortel Networks.

It is estimated that LTE would be commercially available in 2010 or 2011 and Verizon Wireless and Vodafone may have a common platform by around 2015 (Note: Telecom doesn’t move that fast!)

Qualcomm enables laptops with both EV-DO and HSPA

Qualcomm launched on a Wednesday a dual-3G chip with EV-DO and HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) for laptops. This will enable laptop makers to embed a WWAN chip that can handle any of the two most dominant cellular broadband technologies in the world.

Currently, laptops are available with embedded chips that work with either AT&T’s HSPA or Verizon Wireless’ or Sprint Nextel’s or Alltel’s EV-DO network, but no laptop can work with both HSPA or EV-DO networks. Different parts of the world have different broadband networks – the US, Asia (China, India, and Japan) and Australia have both EV-DO and HSPA, Europe is predominantly HSPA (HSDPA and HSUPA), while Korea is EV-DO, making it difficult for laptop users that travel internationally to use the laptop with Wireless Broadband.

Here are the biggest benefits of the dual-3G chipset for laptops:

  1. Qualcomm’s new Gobi chip can connect to either type of network, so the well-traveled users will have a laptop that will work pretty much anywhere in the world. This would also be a good selling point for wireless service providers.
  2. Rather than make two separate laptops for EV-DO and HSPA, laptop manufacturers can manufacture a single laptop with both. Each chipset will cost more because it packs more punch, thus the dual-3G laptop will be more expensive, but costs can be lowered through volume manufacturing, and reduced marketing, distribution and inventory costs, and simpler sales process.
  3. Customers with multiple subscriptions have the ability to choose the best coverage in a given area without having to lug around multiple laptops or multiple USB or PCMCIA WWAN cards, as well as decide on the lowest cost (especially when roaming).

The Gobi chips are available immediately, and Qualcomm expects them to appear in laptops in the second quarter of next year.

Still, the Gobi chip is limited to EV-DO and HSPA, and does not support WiMAX. Wireless carriers are still rolling out WiMAX (the first rollout in the U.S. will be in 2008), and WiMAX will be an important consideration for laptops.

How Clearwire Got a Content Team Overnight

Amp’d Mobile did two things great (and nothing else worth mentioning): one was to offer cool handsets. The other was to offer a really exciting deck of content (for example, Lil’ Bush). Well, now that Amp’d Mobile is no more, Clearwire has apparently acquired Amp’d Mobile’s 50-plus member content team to lead a new content offering under the Clearwire brand.

Thus far Clearwire has focused on building its WiMax-based fixed wireless broadband and on making marketing agreements with DIRECT and EchoStar and with Sprint, as well as moving from Fixed Wireless Broadband to Mobile Wireless Broadband. All this stuff is focused on building the WiMax-based infrastructure. Clearwire doesn’t have a significant content offering, so it would likely give Clearwire a major boost in content offerings.

However, I don’t see why Clearwire would build a content offering. While at Amp’d, the content team was focused on bringing together content for mobile handsets. in other words, short-form content highly adapted to the small-screen. Clearwire’s primary business (currently) is in the PC-centric broadband data and the non-mobile VoIP environment. Clearwire will have a mobile service offering soon, but I believe this “soon” won’t happen for a while. On the other hand, creating compelling content for the PC-Centric environments is probably a big no-no when there’s plenty of competition from big-pocket, large-mass players like Yahoo! and AOL. Plus, without owning the PC-Centric environment, Clearwire will not have a stranglehold on what content a user can access over a PC.

Some people see a synergy, but there’s really none. Perhaps, Clearwire is thinking long term when it will have a mobile offering and Clearwire got the content team quite cheap (after all, those folks need jobs right?).

Sprint and Clearwire is a win for WiMAX

Sprint and Clearwire, the two companies rushing to build a nationwide WiMAX network, just announced an agreement to collaborate on building a nationwide network by the end of 2008. By working together, Sprint and Clearwire the first coast-to-coast WiMAX network and will do it sooner than by going alone. The companies plan to market mobile WiMAX services under a common service brand. This makes sense because neither company has the money to go it alone. Clearwire is a startup without much capitalization, and Sprint is struggling company with 3 networks (iDen, cdma2000 1xRTT and cdma2000 EV-DO, and WiMAX) and not much to do with it.

The 20-year partnership was aimed at “fostering quicker, broader and more efficient deployment of a mobile WiMax broadband network than either company could accomplish on its own.” The companies will build their respective portions of the nationwide network and then enable roaming for each another’s customers. In certain markets, Sprint and Clearwire will exchange spectrum licenses to use the airwaves.

Sprint will build its part of the network to cover about 185 million people, mostly in urban and suburban areas that cover 75% of the country’s 50 largest markets, and Clearwire’s network will cover 115 million people. The US population is just north of 300 million, so this seems just about right. The joint companies will have service for 100 million people by the end of 2008.

With 4G (4th generation) technologies arriving in several years and upcoming spectrum auction at 700 MHz for broadband data, the ultimate winner will not be known for many years. Right now, it looks like a match made in heaven and it looks like a precursor to an eventual takeover of Clearwire by Sprint. Clearwire is by far the bigger winner because it has been struggling to sign up customers and has a very limited footprint.

Update: WiMAX is still not in a position to threaten cellular, not for another 2-3 years.

Clearwire to go mobile….soon

Clearwire Logo
Clearwire, the upstart WiMAX provider, recently announced plans to expand from just a DSL/cable modem replacement service to offer a mobile service as well.

Going mobile is no surprise for WiMAX – it is the whole point in the IEEE 802.16e-2005 standard. Clearwire Chief Strategy Officer Scott Richardson laid out plans to migrate to a fully mobile service.

“People consider us an alternative to cable or DSL, but we will support mobile devices,” Richardson said. “We’re on our way, and we’re leading the mobile Internet charge.”

So far Clearwire has only offered a fixed wireless like service via a residential gateway modem that behaves much like a Cable/DSL modem. This is portable, but not mobile – you can move the Internet service and VoIP service within the coverage area, much like one could take the Vonage adaptor and hook it up to any cable/DSL connection, but you cannot use it while moving (lack of built-in power supply, form factor issues).

Clearwire expects to provide limited-mobility with broadband wireless data cards in the third or fourth quarter (e.g. PCI or PCI Express cards in a laptop or a mobile router). Laptops with embedded WiMAX chips are expected in 2008.

Clearwire expects the first mobile handsets and connected devices to follow shortly afterwards. WiMAX doesn’t make sense without mobility or limited mobility. This is where Clearwire has to attack. But, this is not going to be easy:

  1. 1st generation WiMAX handsets will not be cheap (no economies of scale initially).
  2. WiMAX handsets will have to have similar or better form factor, User Interface features in order to compete with cellular handsets.
  3. At a minimum, WiMAX handsets will have to have a full-featured web browser and voice (VoIP) functionality.
  4. Users are already familiar with the big brand cellular operators, while Clearwire is virtually unknown. Clearwire may have to outmarket cellular operators to gain any traction. Look for very high customer acquisition costs.

To become an industry leader, Clearwire will need good, cost-efficient mobile handsets and a triple-play or quad-play offering.

DIRECTV and EchoStar join Clearwire for some Triple-Play

DIRECTV and EchoStar, two Satellite TV providers, are about to boost their firepower in their fight against the cable companies, who have been giving the Satellite TV providers a good beating with attractively-priced triple-play package of video, phone and high speed Internet .

Today, Clearwire, an upstart WiMAX provider, made a cross-selling marketing agreement iwth DIRECTV and EchoStar (owners of DISH Network). The pact enable the satellite companies to offer Clearwire’s WiMAX high-speed Internet service to their customers and Clearwire will be able to sell Satellite based video to its customers. Each of the three companies will have a triple-play (Broadband Internet, video and voice) solution to market in all current and future Clearwire markets. The launch is planned for later this year.

This is not expected to create big waves in cable land because, Clearwire, the company founded by wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw, only has 258,000 customers as of March 2007. Clearwire’s service covers 9.9 million people in 420 cities across 39 markets in 13 U.S. states.

This is a desperate attempt for DIRECTV and EchoStar, who have been getting a good beating from cable companies offering attractively-priced package of video, phone and high speed Internet (triple-play).

On the other hand, this deal could give a huge boost to WiMAX’s (and Clearwires) fortunes in the US

What would happen when cable companies start offering quad-play (voice, video, data, and wireless)?

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