For the past few years, Clearwire has been betting big on WiMax as the foundation for its 4G service but there are growing signs that it can switch to Long-Term Evolution technology if the market demands.
The company, which provides the underlying 4G infrastructure for Sprint and Time Warner Cable, will cover more than 120 million people with WiMax by the end of the year. It has nearly 1 million subscribers but the world appears to be standardizing on LTE as the technology of choice for 4G and AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have committed to this tech for its next-generation networks.
Clearwire said during its conference call Wednesday that it had renegotiated its contract with Intel, a major investor in the company, to enable it to move away from WiMax. Previously, it had committed to this technology until February 2012, but now it can cancel that agreement within 30 days notice.
“We have been saying for a long time that we are a technology-agnostic company that is focused on rolling out WiMax 4G services to 120 million people this year,” said Mike Sievert, Clearwire’s Chief Commercial Officer, during a conference call. “But we are open minded, and we are studying and watching them. We’ve built an all-IP based network, so we could do it for a modest cost.”
It’s a smart move by Clearwire to keep its options open and WiMax and LTE are relatively harmonious because both are based on Orthogonal frequency division multiplexing – there’s not the incompatibility there is between GSM and CDMA. A switch to LTE would essentially be a software update for Clearwire, so its infrastructure would not be going to waste. Of course, this is a pain in the behind for consumers in the short run because the WiMax-enabled products won’t be compatible with LTE but dual-mode chips could eventually alleviate that problem.
I know, all this alphabet soup can get boring but don’t worry, we’ll soon have more than 12 Mbps on the go to nearly any device. There’s going to be some pain in getting there, though.