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.