Clearwire confirmed to PhoneNews.com today that they have stopped activating new service for customers in pre-WiMAX markets. This does not affect markets that are selling CLEAR 4G WiMAX coverage, nor does it affect any customers who have already enrolled in Clearwire pre-WiMAX service.
The legacy, pre-WiMAX technology dates back to Clearwire founder Craig McCaw’s vision of delivering broadband Internet wirelessly, with a focus on delivering broadband to rural markets that do not have easy access or multiple choices for broadband Internet service.
Originally, Clearwire told PhoneNews.com that it expected all pre-WiMAX markets to get a quick upgrade to WiMAX. It’s a story, and timetable that we followed closely, being that this article is being written from one of the Clearwire markets that is still stuck in pre-WiMAX coverage. That coverage provides speeds up to 3.0 mbps, but lacks modern interfaces… like USB… or even ExpressCard. The only devices that work with the service, are bulky modems designed for fixed wireless, or a PCMCIA/CardBus card (we don’t even have a laptop that has that slot anymore).
Rural customers though persisted, we met multiple customers lined up at iPhone launches that ran their Clearwire pre-WiMAX gear in their car, powered into routers… all being driven by a DC power inverter. Unfortunately, the lack of a simplistic, consumer-friendly solution ensured that only the tech-savvy, and desperate, really took full advantage of these pre-WiMAX offerings.
The technology gap underscores Clearwire’s painful migration from pre-WiMAX, to WiMAX, and now to LTE. The changes in network hardware have prevented Clearwire from having one consistent technology to market to rural and urban customers alike. Clearwire’s majority owner, Sprint, pushed Clearwire to abandon its rural transition goals, in order to focus on rolling out WiMAX in coveted urban markets as quickly as possible.
Now, customers in these rural markets will have to wait until late this year, when Clearwire will unveil its LTE network. It is not even assured that these markets will be upgraded at that point. After missing its 2010 timetable for rural market upgrades, pre-WiMAX customers have been given no guidance from the company, other than to stay tuned to press releases and email updates.
Clearwire continues to struggle. While receiving a cash infusion of a billion dollars from Sprint, largely under pressure-and-observations that Sprint was betting on Clearwire to fail, the company now is working hard to develop an LTE wholesale network, as well as prepare to upgrade CLEAR 4G customers to an LTE Advanced-ready network platform.