Clearwire: Expect healthy WiMax growth in 2009

But the high-speed wireless provider still isn't ready to list a timetable on which markets will be completed next

LAS VEGAS -- A top Clearwire Corp. official said the national WiMax high-speed wireless network market will grow in 2009, although details on when and where are still being discussed.

A range of new laptops and mini-laptops that are WiMax-ready will be announced during the year, further adding to the promise for WiMax, said Barry West, president and chief architect at Clearwire. He spoke in an interview at the International CES on Thursday, four days after WiMax was unveiled under the Clear brand in Portland, Ore.

"Embedded WiMax will be in all kinds of devices," West said, noting that Clearwire might work with Cisco Systems Inc. to embed WiMax into products that work on the Clearwire network. Cisco, which announced a push into home computing products at CES, has already invested in WiMax products outside the U.S., but they don't work on the Clearwire network.

"WiMax will be with us for a long time, but the big question is how strongly and what is the time frame," West added. "We still have time-to-market advantage over [Long Term Evolution]," another high-speed wireless technology that's supported by many carriers globally.

West said Clearwire's new board needs to agree on where to build and open new network markets, now that Baltimore and Portland have launched. A network in Chicago is halfway built, but a timetable for completion has not been announced. Clearwire -- a joint venture of Sprint Nextel Corp., Clearwire, Intel Corp. and three cable companies -- is converting pre-WiMax mobile broadband services to WiMax in 46 markets but has not announced which will be completed next. Sprint was building out Chicago, Washington, Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth under the brand name of Xohm before the joint venture was completed in December, but West would not discuss plans for those cities. Under the joint venture, WiMax will be marketed under the brand name Clear.

The integration of Xohm and Clearwire personnel has gone smoothly, but West said there have "been some differences in the way we build networks." He did not elaborate but said the culture between Xohm and Clearwire workers is similar and "very encouraging."

Some analysts have questioned how well WiMax will catch on and noted that Nokia has decided to stop selling its N810 WiMax mini-computer, possibly due in part to concerns over the future of WiMax.

But one Intel official said the N810 might have suffered from price and performance issues. That official, Julie Coppernoll, director of marketing for WiMax programs at Intel, said the chip maker is still solidly behind WiMax and predicted that Nokia will make more WiMax devices, along with other device makers.

"Intel believes in the business model of WiMax," she said.

Coppernoll said she expects Clearwire to announce some build-out plans by the end of the month. She added that a factor in making decisions about the build-out is whether it makes sense to completely finish one market before starting another or to leave an area nearly finished before investing in others.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon