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In a clear bid to exploit WiMAX's time-to-market advantage over LTE - its 4G wireless-broadband competitor - Clearwire will offer free WiMAX service to developers in Silicon Valley.

The free ride, dubbed the "WiMAX Innovation Network," will be available to "a limited number of qualified developers for one year" and will cover 20 square miles - including the campuses of WiMAX champions Google and Intel.

Cisco Systems is also in on the deal, providing the necessary Internet Protocol Next-Generation Network (IP NGN) infrastructure equipment needed to support the Innovation Network.

To qualify, developers must tell Clearwire what products or business ideas they plan to use the Innovation Network to investigate and plop down $49.99 up-front for a Clearwire-supplied WiMAX USB modem. The program is scheduled to begin in late summer. Commercial service for other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area is planned for 2010.

The program is intended to jump-start the development of WiMAX-related products and services by the best and the brightest in America's high-tech heartland. According to Scott Richardson, Clearwire's chief strategy officer: "The WiMAX Innovation Network will provide some of the world's most talented developers with a live test environment in which to build broadband services specifically designed for the 4G mobile Internet experience."

In a statement, Clearwire said that it plans to cover 120 million potential customers in 80 cities with its Clear 4G mobile wireless-broadband by 2010. Part of that effort will include service provided by Sprint, which announced last week that it will expand its WiMAX service to 15 cities and 22 million potential customers by next year.

That's just about when the WiMAX-versus-LTE slugfest will begin in earnest. Verizon announced in February that it will begin its LTE roll-out by 2010 as well.

Silicon Valley devs interested in fiddling with the network can pre-register here. An SDK will be made available at the program's launch. Clearwire said its network API's will plug into the Google Web 2.0 developer framework. ®

Additional reporting by Austin Modine

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