Comcast WiMax coming to Portland midyear

Step viewed as vote of confidence in Clearwire venture

Cable operator Comcast Corp. has confirmed that it will begin reselling Clearwire Corp.'s WiMax service in Portland, Ore., in the middle of this year.

Portland was the first market to get commercial WiMax service from Clearwire, beginning in early January. The newly formed WiMax service provider earlier this month unveiled plans to reach as many as 120 million potential customers in at least 80 markets by the end of 2010, but some critics have questioned whether it will be able to attain those goals in the face of strong economic headwinds. For its part, Clearwire said it has enough cash to last into 2011.

Comcast, Intel Corp., Google Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Bright House Networks last year invested a total of $3.2 billion as part of the deal to create Clearwire out of a pre-WiMax service provider and Sprint's own WiMax business.

But some of the investors subsequently took write-offs for the value of their investments. Comcast said last month it had taken a $600 million charge. The cable operator's confirmation of a location and a time frame for reselling Clearwire's service is a strong vote of confidence in the project.

The Clearwire partnership gives Comcast an opportunity to compete with telecommunications carriers on mobile data services, creating a "quadruple play" of voice, home Internet access, mobile, and TV and video on demand. By bundling all four services into one package on a single bill, service providers hope to increase their monthly revenue per customer and make it harder for subscribers to switch to a competitor. Comcast is the nation's biggest cable operator, and with 6.47 million subscribers to its VoIP service in 39 states, it's also the third-largest phone company.

All the cable operators, plus Sprint, said they would resell the Clearwire service under their own brands. The network can deliver multiple megabits per second to desktop, USB and PC Card modems, as well as handheld devices. Also around the middle of this year, Clearwire plans to offer a dual-mode WiMax and 3G modem that will work on both its own network and Sprint's.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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