Clearwire's Wolff: 'Full Speed Ahead' with WiMax

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Clearwire's Wolff: 'Full Speed Ahead' with WiMax

Despite what you may have read, heard or thought, there is no chance of Clearwire Corp. (NASDAQ: CLWRD) abandoning WiMax technology anytime soon. Though Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff did talk Monday about the possibility of adding support for Long Term Evolution (LTE) to Clearwire's technology mix sometime in the future, in an interview Thursday morning Wolff left no doubt that Clearwire is solidly behind WiMax, and considers it the best (and only) 4G wireless technology currently available for deployment.

"We have no doubts that we made the right decision" to pick WiMax as the technology for its wireless network rollout, said Wolff in a phone interview. "We are going full-speed ahead with WiMax. It offers a more robust [Internet] experience, at a more economic price point, than any other technology available today."

The confusion over Clearwire's commitment to WiMax came in the wake of a Monday conference call, which was used mainly to report the details of the completion of the merger of Clearwire with Sprint's WiMax assets, and the new branding of its "Clear" WiMax services. At one point in the call, Wolff talked briefly about the possibility of Clearwire adding support for LTE in the future, should the standard become widely adopted and deployed. While Wolff never said Clearwire might "switch" from WiMax to LTE -- his statement clearly says the company might employ both technologies -- just the mention of LTE touched off no small amount of Internet speculation about Clearwire's possible abandonment of WiMax.

As for why he chose to address the issue during Monday's call, Wolff said Thursday that the "number one question" he gets asked by analysts, investors and the press is whether WiMax vs. LTE is a technology bet, and whether Clearwire's WiMax choice is destined to fail because of the support for LTE from leading providers like AT&T and Verizon.

The answer, Wolff said, isn't about which technology will win, but about what experience a provider can deliver to customers. If and when the LTE standard is completed, if a large number of devices arrive with LTE connectivity but no WiMax support, Wolff said Clearwire's all-IP infrastructure and large amount of licensed spectrum will allow Clearwire to add support for LTE to its existing networks.

"It's about the addition of LTE to the mix, and not a switch," Wolff said. "If LTE does take off, and there are devices with LTE and without WiMax, we want to be able to service those customers too. Unlike today's [cellular data] providers we have the ability, with a common network architecture and infrastructure, and so much spectrum, that we can implement LTE as well as WiMax."

While he doesn't really want to get Clearwire in the middle of any technology "holy war," Wolff did say that Clearwire's new "Clear" networks use WiMax to provide faster services than competing 3G cellular mobile-data technology.

"That's a choice consumers have right now, because there's not a close competitor with 4G technology," Wolff said.

The new Clearwire will soon take over operations of the Sprint-launched Xohm WiMax network now operational in Baltimore. New "Clear" launches are expected soon in Portland, Ore., Las Vegas, Atlanta and Grand Rapids, Mich., along with previously slated Xohm operations in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas/Fort Worth, Boston, Philadephia and Providence, R.I. Clearwire said Monday that it will offer more information on network launches early in 2009.

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