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Clearwire's got capacity to share

Thu, 01/05/2012 - 2:41pm
Monica Alleven, Wireless Week

Clearwire's got capacity in the 2.5 GHz band, and it's here to share it – at the right price.

That sums up part of the message during a fireside chat with Clearwire CFO Hope Cochran at the Citi conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. The event was webcast.

Much of Clearwire's traffic is driven by smartphones, and more than 50 percent of its traffic is video. But while there's a lot of tiered pricing going on in the industry now, a lot of consumers are still surprised at how quickly their allotment of gigabytes wears out. Just watching 30 minutes of video a day quickly eats up the 5-gig limit that many operators are offering, she noted.

Those are the kinds of usage trends that Clearwire has been seeing from its WiMAX network. If 2010 was the year it built the network, then 2011 was the year it operated the network. Now it's moving back to a build-out (or overlay) type of stage as Clearwire adds LTE to its most heavily used WiMAX sites.

Cochran reviewed Clearwire's hefty spectrum position compared to others in the industry, and while Sprint accounts for the bulk of its wholesale business, the company would like to acquire another significant wholesale customer, and conversations are occurring. Clearwire has "a tremendous amount of capacity" that it can offer to the industry, she said.

Right now in the retail space, Clearwire leases most of its devices, but in the future, it's looking to sell them, which would bring down its cost of acquiring subscribers.

Clearwire reached an agreement with Sprint at the end of November that involves Sprint paying Clearwire a total of $926 million, about two-thirds of which will be paid in 2012, for unlimited 4G WiMAX retail services during 2012 and 2013. The agreements also established long-term usage-based pricing for WiMAX services in 2014 and beyond.

Asked about industry players' "Plan B" since AT&T and T-Mobile USA had to shelve their merger plans, Cochran referred to December's news as an "interesting event" and said she doesn't want to speculate on any conversations that are occurring as a result. She did, however, acknowledge what many others have said that T-Mobile needs capacity, spectrum and an LTE path.

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