WiMAX Provider Clearwire To Test LTE, Might Lead to Sprint Offering LTE Phones

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WiMAX provider and Sprint partner Clearwire is pushing ahead with a trial of rival 4G technology. This could eventually lead to Sprint using LTE as its 4G standard.

So far, Clearwire runs two networks: an older, proprietary wireless broad network system and a 4G WiMAX system — backed by Sprint, Intel and several big cable providers — which is still in the midst of a lengthy gradual rollout to various U.S. metro areas.

Both Sprint and Clearwire sell access to this WiMAX network — Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G uses it, and the upcoming Samsung Epic 4G will too.

Now, Clearwire plans to test LTE in Phoenix, AZ this fall as it looks to the possible creation of a “multi-mode WiMAX/LTE network” that might provide faster LTE services than those about to be adopted by AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

In a conference call for analysts last week, held to discuss Clearwire’s second quarter financial results, Clearwire detailed plans for the LTE trials in Phoenix while also announcing the addition of Boston, MA to its WiMAX network over the next few weeks and the rollout of a new WiMAX service for Apple mobile devices known as the iSpot.

In mid-July, Sprint CEO Dane Hesse foreshadowed the unveiling of Clearwire’s LTE trial when he told the UK’s Financial Times that Sprint holds enough bandwidth on its network to accommodate both WiMAX and LTE.

Clearwire LTE Network Could be the Fastest 4G in the U.S.
In the upcoming trial in Phoenix, Clearwire plans to work with 4G chip manufacturer Beceem and other partners to figure out the best ways for end users’ mobile devices to take advantage of a mixed WiMAX/LTE network.

The goal with the trial is to help “future-proof” its wireless network, said Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow, during the conference call with analysts.

In an LTE deployment, Clearwire could provide much faster speeds than competitors because it has more radio spectrum at hand, Morrow contended. Clearwire and its majority owner Sprint are estimated to be using only about 30% of the pooled spectrum licenses available to them in most markets.

In Phoenix, Clearwire will test both TDD (time-division-duplex) and FDD (frequency-division duplex) technologies. With FDD, Clearwire could use two bands of 20 MHz each, while rival operators would be restricted to 10 MHz bands, said Clearwire CTO John Saw.

The company also announced the iSpot, a new $25-per-month wireless hotspot for iPad, iPod and iPod touch devices.

Clearwire Tries to Beef Up Customer Support
Meanwhile, with some WiMAX users voicing complaints over tech support and other customer service issues, Clearwire recently announced plans to expand its customer care calling center in Santa Rosa, FL and to add more customer support staff.

Although Clearwire’s 4G WiMAX keeps attracting new customers as it expands to more cities, Clearwire’s “churn” or turnover rate for the service increased to 3.2% for the second quarter of 2010 from 2.8% for the same period a year ago, according to numbers released by Clearwire.

Also during the second quarter, WiMAX picked up 127,000 new subscribers, to reach a total of 940,000 by June 30.

Clearwire announced a second quarter net loss of $125.9 million, in comparison to a net loss of $73.4 million for the second quarter of last year.

On Internet message boards, some customers have complained about difficulties in getting effective technical help or in canceling WiMAX.

Prior to this week’s announcement of the expanded call center in Florida, Clearwire admitted in an SEC filing that defects in Amdocs software code will delay implementation of a planned new customer care and billing software system into 2011.

Delays in the new customer care and billing system are causing “additional, unplanned costs to the company,” according to the filing.




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