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Clearwire’s WiMax plans call for little new building in 2009

New Clear market launches already have Sprint-and Clearwire-built networks in place; major expansion to come in 2010

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For more on Clearwire’s WiMax rollout, see Telephony’s 4G Race topic page

Clearwire on Thursday finally articulated its WiMax rollout plans for the year, but instead of announcing an aggressive rollout schedule that would move it into new markets by year-end, the mobile broadband operator only committed to commercially launch markets it and part-owner Sprint have already built as well as upgrade its largest fixed wireless markets to mobile WiMax.

The first new market builds won’t occur until 2010, when Clearwire expects to bring the likes of New York City, Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., into the footprint. By the end of 2010, Clearwire expects to have a footprint covering 120 million people in 80 markets, which would put it at the low end of the 120 million to 140 million points of presence Sprint and Clearwire originally targeted.

Speaking at Clearwire’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Chief Executive Officer Ben Wolff said a nationwide footprint can’t be achieved overnight. While Clearwire received a $3.2-billion cash infusion from Google, Intel and cable operators when it merged with Sprint’s WiMax business last year, Clearwire will have to go to the capital markets to seek more funding to finance a complete nationwide rollout. Considering the difficulty in raising cash in today’s recession, Clearwire therefore has to be cautious in how it spends its initial investment, Wolff said.

“In this difficult economic climate, our objective is to continue to balance the prudent use of our significant financial resources with our desire to take full advantage of the market opportunity that is in front of us, and we intend to do just that,” Wolff said in a statement. “This means retaining the flexibility to accelerate or decelerate our expansion based on our own successes and the macro-economic environment.”

Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless is breathing down Clearwire’s neck, trying to whittle down the upstart operator’s time-to-market lead. Verizon has already accelerated its Long-Term Evolution (LTE) deployment plans and will roll out its first two LTE trial markets by the end of 2009, a timeline that puts it exactly one year behind Clearwire. The question remains how soon and how big Verizon’s commercial rollout will be in 2010. If Verizon’s initial launch is small or loaded toward the end of the year, Clearwire would retain a significant market lead, especially in the markets it brings live this year.

If Verizon is particularly aggressive in its schedule--or Clearwire delays its rollout further--Clearwire could see much of its time-to-market lead evaporate.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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