Clearwire formally inaugurated WiMAX service in Portland, Ore., yesterday, its second WiMAX market after Baltimore.
In Baltimore it was introduced as Xohm; last month the service was renamed Clear.
Portland is technically a more challenging market to get up and running by virtue of far hillier terrain than found on the East Coast, with more foliage. Terrain and conditions forced Clearwire to install more infrastructure to get proper coverage.
But in a demonstration in a vehicle moving around downtown Portland, the technology worked flawlessly, accessing the Internet, getting live traffic reports from webcams set up by local news stations, accessing HD video through Hulu, and even uploading a photo from a Wi-Fi-enabled camera, which was uploaded via Clear WiMAX to Flickr in a few short minutes.
During yesterday’s press conference, Clearwire addressed questions about the potential viability of its service. CEO Benjamin Wolff cited revenue information and surveys that clearly indicate that wireless data is the fastest-growing segment of the communications service industry.
Clearwire execs repeatedly said they expect mobile WiMAX to do to current data services what cell phones have been doing to landline-based telephony. Clearwire Chief Strategy Officer Scott Richardson said, “We expect all broadband will be wireless in five to six years.”
The company now warrants up to 6 Mbps for home service with Clear, and up to 4 Mbps for mobile access.
Clear now covers Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., along with suburbs of both, including Hillsboro and Forest Grove, where the Intel operations that helped develop WiMAX technology are located. Clear says there are 1.7 million people in the market. Its target is to get one of every four customers.
WiMAX technology has the potential to be accelerated to tens – and perhaps hundreds – of megabits per second.
Clear has set up several storefronts around the Portland metro area and will also be selling the service through Best Buy and Radio Shack.
Clear has mobile, residential and business plans that can be purchased by the day or by the month, and the plans do not require long-term service contracts. Home Internet service plans start at $20 per month, while mobile Internet plans start at $30 per month. A day pass is $10. Additional savings are available for customers that purchase both home and mobile Internet services or that sign up for a two-year service agreement.
Richardson told CED that as the market gets more developed and as people get used to Clear, Clearwire may consider an all-you-can-eat plan with a large data allocation – perhaps 10 gigabytes a month. “Right now, no one will be using anywhere near 10 gigabytes, so it makes no sense to educate people on what a gigabyte is,” he explained.
A USB WiMAX modem from Motorola can be purchased for $49.99. The Clear residential modem, also from Motorola, can be leased for $4.99/month.
Richardson said voice adapters for voice services should be available by the end of the quarter. He said Clear is also testing a dual-mode (cellular and WiMAX) USB modem that could be available in the second half of the year.
PCs with built-in WiMAX from Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba will be available in the first quarter. Dell, Fujitsu, Panasonic and Samsung have said they expect to deliver WiMAX PCs, as well.
These computers are based on Intel processors that incorporate both Wi-Fi and WiMAX. Richardson explained that on a silicon level, WiMAX can be added to any chip with Wi-Fi for a negligible cost.
That makes it easier to make computers with built-in WiMAX. Other consumer electronics products will likely take longer to manifest.
The company has not yet identified the next markets to be built out with mobile WiMAX. Wolff explained that the biggest factor is the permit process involved with leasing space on existing towers. “Once we get approvals, we can equip a tower in half a day,” he said.
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