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Clearwire the big kahuna in broadband wireless

Despite using proprietary gear, Clearwire already carries one quarter of the world’s BWA subscribers

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Clearwire is by far the largest broadband wireless access (BWA) provider in the world, according to Maravedis, which recently performed a subscriber count of all of global WiMAX and proprietary BWA networks. Clearwire’s 443,000 subscribers give it almost one quarter of all individual broadband wireless connections in the first quarter and more than double the number of total mobile WiMAX subscribers.

Of course, Clearwire is supposed to be a mobile WiMAX provider, but it has yet to launch a WiMAX network. Though it has been running trials in Portland, Ore., for the last year, its first commercial WiMAX won’t come until later this year, after its joint venture with Sprint and its investors close. In the interim though, Clearwire hasn’t been shy about building out networks using proprietary NextNet gear sold by Motorola. Clearwire has targeted mainly mid-sized cities across the US, selling residential and small-business fixed wireless connections as well as offering a nomadic laptop-card service in some markets.

According to the Maravedis report, there are 1.988 million broadband wireless subscribers in the world, more than half of which are on a network using a proprietary broadband wireless network such as Motorola’s NextNet or Canopy or Alvarion or Aperto Networks’ pre-WiMAX kits. Of the 602,000 customers on WiMAX gear, 509,000 have fixed WiMAX service (networks based on the IEEE 802.16d standard), while only 193,000 are using a true mobile WiMAX (IEEE 802.16e) network, and of those, the vast majority, 145,000, are on Korea Telecom’s WiBro network, which gained certification under the WiMAX Forum this year.

Maravedis CEO Adlane Fellah said there may be a lot of momentum behind mobile WiMAX in the industry, but actual customers have yet to emerge. “There’s a situation where the supply side hasn’t caught up to the demand side,” Fellah said. He pointed toward Korea Telecom’s struggles to attract customers to the network -- after several years of operation it hasn’t yet cracked the 200,000-mark -- as well as Wateen Telecom in Pakistan, which has ordered 200,000 CPE units from Motorola but has only sold 10% of them as it ramps up its nationwide network.

Those numbers will eventually pick up, though, as the WiMAX ecosystem builds up steam, Fellah said. The WiMAX Forum has just completed its first round of global certification, so the economies of scale for WiMAX devices and CPEs haven’t yet been achieved. As larger carriers like Clearwire roll out their networks, prices for devices will drop and more operators will be encouraged to roll out service, he said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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