PORTLAND, Ore. Service provider Clearwire Corp. will offer 4G wireless connections via mobile WiMax to 1.7 million potential subscribers in Portland Ore.
The "Clear wireless network" launched this week includes over 300 cellphone towers equipped with WiMax basestations installed to cover most of the Portland metropolitan area. Subscribers would pay $20 to $50 per month for access to wireless broadband via USB modems for mobile users or using a WiMax-enabled Ethernet router.
"We are doing for the Internet, what the cellphone did for mobile communications," claimed Benjamin Wolff, CEO at Clearwire (Kirkland, Wash.). "Portland is the fastest unwired city in the West."
Portland is Clearwire's second WiMax rollout, following its Baltimore deployment last year. Clearwire previously launched pilot services in 46 metropolitan areas, but those installations were a fraction of the speed of the WiMax launches in Portland and Baltimore. The two cities will offer full-speed WiMax services which Clearwire claims match or exceed cable modems and DSL, with download speeds of up to 6 megabits/sec and up to 2-megabits/sec uploads.
Cellphone carriers are backing an alternative technology called LTE (Long Term Evolution) as an easier upgrade path to replace its current 3G connections to smart phones. LTE, however, will not be widely deployed until 2011, giving WiMax networks a two-year headstart in the U.S. WiMax-based handheld devices are so far only widely available in South Korea. WiMax backer Intel Corp., however, promises that handhelds based on its Atom processor will be introduced later this year.
Clearwire claims to have 90 percent coverage in Portland with its current 300 towers. It plans to add another 50 towers over the next two years to fill in coverage gaps. In contrast, Clearwire's deployment in Baltimore, called Sprint Xohm, covers only the downtown area. Additional towers will be needed to cover the rest of the metropolitan area.
"We chose Portland because its population is technically savvy, plus is environment is challenging," said Wolff. "We figured that if we could make WiMax work in Portland, we could make it work anywhere."
Clearwire's goal is to achieve 25 percent penetration of the Portland market in the next five years, or 425,000 subscribers generating about $200 million in annual revenue.
Clearwire's investors include Intel Capital, Comcast, Sprint, Google, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.