Clearwire, the Craig McCaw venture getting increasing attention for its wireless broadband service, said yesterday it is partnering with Bell Canada to provide voice calls over its network.

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Clearwire, the Craig McCaw venture getting increasing attention for its wireless broadband service, said yesterday it is partnering with Bell Canada to provide voice calls over its network.

As part of the deal, Canada’s largest phone company invested $100 million in Clearwire, bringing the total raised by the Kirkland company to more than $300 million.

The partnership and investment put Clearwire on the fast track to rolling out a technology that is so new that standards for it have yet to be established. So far, Clearwire has launched a precursor service in Jacksonville, Fla., and is in four U.S. markets today. It expects to be in about 20 U.S. cities by year’s end.

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Clearwire delivers Internet access through a modem box plugged into an electrical socket in a home. The service, which can transmit voice and data at speeds comparable to DSL and cable, requires no fiber-optic cables or copper wires, making it ideal for communities that don’t have high-speed Internet access.

The technology is an early version of WiMax, a standard promising to deliver Internet access to large areas — in contrast to the shorter-range Wi-Fi access found in coffeehouses, offices, homes and other locations.

Clearwire’s system uses licensed broadcast spectrum. McCaw, as founder of McCaw Cellular Communications, knows that business well because spectrum is at the heart of cellphone technology.


Clearwire




Developing an early version of WiMax, a wireless broadband technology.


Headquarters: Kirkland


Chief Executive:
Craig McCaw, founder of McCaw Cellular Communications, which later became AT&T Wireless.


Technology:
Offers a precursor to WiMax


U.S. service area:
St. Cloud, Minn.; Abilene, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla., and Daytona Beach, Fla.


Money raised:
More than $300 million from investors and partnerships through Intel Capital and Bell Canada.


McCaw Cellular later became AT&T Wireless, and McCaw himself moved on to start other projects. Among them was the well-funded Teledesic, which sought unsuccessfully to deploy Internet service through low-orbiting satellites.

With the Bell Canada announcement, Clearwire plans to roll out voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Phone calls made through VoIP are transmitted over the Internet.

Ben Wolff, Clearwire’s executive vice president, said that under the partnership with Bell Canada, customers will be able to plug their standard phones into Clearwire’s modem to receive service.

The announcement that Clearwire will be providing voice services renews the question of whether the company intends to compete with cellphone carriers, which are launching high-speed-data networks using another technology, called 3G.

Although Clearwire has said it has no intentions to do so, the addition of voice may move the company a step closer in that direction.

“We’ve always anticipated various applications that could run over a wireless broadband connection,” Wolff said. “This is something that’s more akin to the land-line telephony service as opposed to cellular telephony. You’ll have a modem in the home, and your land-line phone plugged into a device. It’s not like walking around with a cellphone connected to 3G services.”

Wolff said Clearwire chose Bell Canada for its expertise in VoIP and it wouldn’t partner with telecom operators in the United States, which are competitors in the arena.

In addition to the partnership and investment announcements, Bell Canada said it will make an undisclosed investment in McCaw’s NR Communications, which is part owner of Inukshuk Joint Venture. Inukshuk is selling similar services to Clearwire in Canada.

Also, Bell Canada’s Chief Executive Michael Sabia will join Clearwire’s board.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com