Sprint/Clearwire has enjoyed the bounty of being the largest 4G carrier in the US in 2009. The Kirkland, Washington based company has expanded its Clear WiMAX service from a mere 2 to 27 total markets in 2009 and is offering 4-6Mbps broadband wireless connectivity in five major cities including Baltimore, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and Portland, Oregon. The road has been bumpy for Clear with widely reported network problems and other growing pains plaguing the company as it builds out its fledgling WiMAX infrastructure. Despite setbacks and delays, Clear’s WiMAX service has attracted 173,000 customers by the end of Q3 2009 and its subscriber base is expected to increase as it continues to roll out service in the fourth quarter of 2009. Fueling this growth is a healthy amount of capital that will allow Clear to expand WiMAX to 120 million customers by the end of 2010. That is the status of their network, hit the jump to see what Clear has in store for devices in 2010.
Growth in subscribership and service expansion are good but its the mobile connectivity hardware that will bring people in and that is where the company will see improvement in 2010. Clear currently offers a range of modems, routers and personal hotspots and will soon be adding the upcoming dual 3G/4G mobile hotspot from Sierra Wireless. Integrated WiMAX, present on many laptops in 2009, will continue to be an option on several laptop models made by Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Toshiba and Fujitsu. Now that Clear has an established portfolio of WiMAX data cards and modems, it is time for Clear to focus on the catgegory of pocketable, stand alone mobile devices, an area in which Clear needs some major improvement in 2010. Currently, Clear offers a single mobile device, the Windows Mobile 6.1 powered Samsung Mondi, a rather unexciting device. This blaise portoflio of one is expected to expand in 2010, according to Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow, who said that WiMAX-enabled smartphones are expected to start arriving by mid 2010. With Sprint, Microsoft, and LG planning some big shindig on January 6th to kick off CES 2010, we will hopefully see at least one new WiMAX enabled smartphone arise out of that event. Efforts are also underway to bring Android to WiMAX – an initiative being spearheaded by Beceem, the leading supplier of chips for WiMAX devices, in conjunction with VoIP developer D2 and WiMAX hardware manufacturer ECS EliteGroup. Last but not least, we can’t forget about HTC which already has the Max 4G, a dual GSM/WiMAX smartphone on Russia’s Yota network. If any or all of these companies can bring new mobile devices to Clear’s WiMAX service, then Clear will have a nice jump on its competition, offering sleek new handsets while future LTE providers are still building out their networks. The first step in this direction for Sprint/Clear may start as early as next week, let’s hope they can deliver something that will wow us and make us excited about the now of WiMAX instead of the future of LTE.