Kirkland-based Clearwire is rolling into the WiMax market with the brand name Clear. The company will sell its wireless broadband services under that name, replacing the Xohm brand that partner Sprint Nextel has used since September.
Clearwire, the Kirkland-based company that now operates wireless broadband assets from Sprint Nextel, is rolling into the WiMax market with the brand name Clear.
The company said Monday it will sell its wireless broadband services under that name, which is replacing the Xohm brand that partner Sprint Nextel has used since September.
In addition, Clearwire Chief Executive Ben Wolff said Monday that if a rival standard to WiMax broadband becomes more popular, Clearwire will be able to switch technologies.
The developments came as Clearwire’s merger with Sprint’s WiMax network was closed Friday.
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WiMax, a technology sometimes described as Wi-Fi on steroids, is considered the next generation — the fourth — of wireless broadband technology, one that provides Internet access covering entire markets and providing faster data speeds than most current third-generation cellular broadband networks.
Sprint began offering WiMax service in Baltimore in September but hasn’t disclosed how many customers have signed up. Clearwire plans to begin selling WiMax in Portland in the first quarter of 2009 and already has about 400,000 customers on a pre-WiMax network in 46 cities, including Seattle.
Wolff told analysts and reporters during a conference call Monday that the company will focus on upgrading that system to WiMax next year, as well as opening commercial service in several other cities.
Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint will own 51 percent of Clearwire, while investors in the original Clearwire, founded by cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, will own about 22 percent. The rest of the company will be owned by investors including Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks, which have put in a total of $3.2 billion in cash.
One issue Wolff discussed Monday was how the company can move from WiMax to a technology called Long Term Evolution, or LTE, if enough customers want it. Clearwire chose WiMax because it may be four years before LTE is ready for commercial use, he said.
AT&T and Verizon Wireless, Sprint’s larger competitors, have said they will use LTE to build out so-called fourth-generation networks, which will provide faster Internet access than those used today. Nortel Networks, North America’s biggest maker of phone equipment, has also said it will devote more resources to LTE than WiMax.
“Everyone else in the world is using LTE technology,” said Christopher King, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Baltimore. He has a hold rating on Clearwire and doesn’t own any of its shares. “They need to be flexible, certainly, to the extent that investors are skeptical” about WiMax.
The technologies have a lot in common, and Clearwire’s suppliers will be able to deliver equipment for an LTE network if needed, he said.
Wolff said Clearwire’s service will provide wireless Internet access mostly for laptops at first. Phones probably will catch on later, although a handset made by Nokia designed for Clearwire’s service in Baltimore already has sold out, he said.
Fourth-generation devices (commonly referred to as 4G) will let customers surf the Web and download files more quickly than they can today on such 3G devices as Apple’s iPhone and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Storm.
Clearwire rose 86 cents, or 13 percent, to $7.48 while Sprint declined 47 cents, or 17 percent, to $2.32.
Information from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News is included in this report.