Cable’s investment in Sprint-Clearwire is going to be problematic.
I got a demo of the Clear residential/mobile service last month, in a car with an in-dash screen and WiMAX (and Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi can come free with WiMAX). As we drove across the Willamette River and back, then picked our way through downtown Portland, Ore., Clear was easily downloading video from YouTube and Hulu.
We viewed live video from traffic cams that local TV news stations have scattered about the area. We called up Google Maps. In combination with GPS, we could watch our progress on the satellite map. We searched a list of local restaurants and used Skype to call one.
One of the guys from Clear (the one who let on that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts had been in for a similar ride a few weeks earlier) took my photo on a Wi-Fi camera and uploaded it to Flickr.
Clear is wicked cool.
So what are the problems? My family is already asking about trading in our broadband account with our cable provider. If Clear is successful, Sprint’s cable partners are going to learn the meaning of “cannibalism.”
Clear is going to need time to build critical masses of both markets and gadgets to attach to the network. Nokia says it’s going to forgo WiMAX for now, from which one might infer something about the pace of Clearwire’s rollout. Other vendors will have products, but lacking an avalanche of WiMAX gadgets, taking full advantage of Clear will not be possible immediately.
Finally, many analysts expect Sprint to run out of money, and if that ends up being the case, who’s on the hook to pony up more financial support? You didn’t think inviting Brian Roberts to Portland to dazzle him with the toys was an end unto itself, did you?