Clearwire 4G opens in NYC, L.A. and San Francisco on deck

Clearwire reached a milestone today with the launch of its WiMax 4G service in New York City--along with cities in New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida. Looks like it is finally time to trade in my old AT&T USBConnect 3G laptop card.

Looks like it is finally time to trade in my old AT&T USBConnect 3G laptop card.

Though it is no surprise--New Yorkers have been reporting service in the metropolitan area for the past few weeks--Clearwire reached a milestone today with the launch of its WiMax 4G service in New York City. The CLEAR 4G service is now also available in cities in New Jersey and Connecticut, and in Florida, Clearwire added Tampa Bay to a list of cities that already includes Orlando, Daytona Beach and Jacksonville. In all, the 4G service is now available in 62 markets in the U.S. (here's the coverage map), and Clearwire recently said it would meet its goal of reaching 80 markets and 120 million "points-of-presence" by year-end. Next up is Los Angeles-slated for December 1-followed by San Francisco in mid-December.

In addition to its retail service, Clearwire sells its network wholesale to other communications service providers. Sprint, Comcast and Time-Warner Cable offer 4G service using Clearwire's network. To date, there are only two smartphones available (and for data only), the HTC Evo 4G and Samsung Epic 4G--both sold by Sprint. Clearwire also sells several mobile hotspots, the Clear Spot 4G, Spot 4G+ and iSpot, which make it easy to connect multiple devices to the 4G network using WiFi. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in an interview published yesterday that the iPad has boosted sales of its version of the 4G mobile hotspot, the OverDrive. Clearwire also offers USB modems and home modems to access its network, and the company says some 45 laptops and netbooks from Asus, Dell, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba offer Intel's integrated WiMax modules.

Clearwire's 4G service, which the company claims has average download speeds of 3- to 6Mbps, is still the only 4G service available, but it won't have the U.S market to itself for long. Verizon recently announced details of its LTE rollout. It plans to launch LTE in 38 markets, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and at 60 airports by the end of this year. Verizon has said its LTE network will offer average download speeds of 5- to 12Mbps and upload speeds 2- to 5Mbps. MetroPCS launched its own LTE service in Dallas, Detroit and Las Vegas. AT&T has been focused on upgrading its existing network to HSPA+ before rolling out LTE starting in 2011. T-Mobile is the wildcard here. It has been marketing its own HSPA+ network as 4G service because it has download speeds of around 6-7Mbps, but it has yet to announce whether it will build its own 4G network or partner with someone else such as Clearwire.

Clearwire says its significant spectrum holdings allow it to support unlimited data--the average CLEAR subscriber uses a whopping 7GB of data per month. That is a nightmare for the incumbent wireless carriers. In fact other carriers have been migrating to tiered pricing in preparation for the rollout of 4G specifically to try to avoid this (this morning T-Mobile announced its tiered data plans as well as a tethering option). Those tiered plans seem to be working well for AT&T with the iPhone, but they won't work nearly as well for the wide range of devices that will be accessing LTE networks starting with laptops and tablets.

Clearwire still faces some very tough competition, but if the major carriers do not offer reasonably-priced unlimited plans-or, at the very least, tiered plans with roomy data caps-WiMax could remain competitive for some time.


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