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Clearwire spreads more WiMAX on US

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WiMAX fans just received two bits of good news: Clearwire will launch its WiMAX-based Clear 4G service in 10 new US markets next month, and a worldwide study suggests "strong potential" for both mobile and fixed WiMAX implementations in regions as disparate as the US and Africa.

The Intel-championed wireless broadband technology has traveled a rocky road recently, from good-news/bad-news reports of increasing subscribers but declining profits to a Juniper research study that pointed to a 5X spending spanking by its challenger, LTE, by 2014.

But today, the WiMAXers can break out the bubbly.

Clearwire - the name given to the joint Clearwire+Sprint WiMAX effort - announced that on the first of September it will begin Clear 4G service in 10 small markets - Boise, Idaho; Bellingham, Washington; and eight markets in Texas: Abilene, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, Killeen/Temple, Waco, and Wichita Falls.

It's not that these are particularly large or important markets. Taken together, they total just over 1.6 million inhabitants. The cork-popping news is that Clearwire remains on track in its drive to open up more and more markets to WiMAX before LTE can even gain a foothold in the US.

And Clearwire plans are ambitious. According to their announcement, the company plans to offer Clear 4G in 80 markets to a total of 120 million potential subscribers by the end of next year - right when LTE should just be beginning to hit its stride.

The second piece of good news for WiMAX backers is a report released last week by Infonetics Research, which says that WiMAX is poised to exploit opportunities globally in countries that either "have huge populations, or the broadband demands of the population are not being met by existing technologies."

The report specifically details opportunities for WiMAX growth in the US, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil.

The Infonetics report singles out India as "is the largest single-country WiMAX opportunity in the world" - China being firmly in the LTE camp. In India, the report notes, "deployments are well-underway."

The report also calls Russia the "'perfect storm' for WiMAX," citing that enormous country's wildly dispersed population, tough-to-wire geography, lack of current broadband infrastructure, and "a population able to pay for services."

Brazil is "potentially one of the world's most dynamic WiMAX markets." The Middle East is noted for its "relatively stable and affluent economies and often inferior telecommunications infrastructure." And Africa's 80 networks in 35 countries are also experiencing growth, despite "challenges in terms of funding and low-ARPU [average revenue per user] business models."

It should be noted, however, that Infonetics recently published a separate report that saw a bright future for LTE as well, with infrastructure spending in support of that standard to reach $5bn by 2013.

As The Reg has said many times while covering the world's move to 4G mobile broadband, WiMAX has the advantage of existing, while LTE has a broader range of supporters.

At last year's Intel Developer Forum, one Intel engineer provided an analysis that still rings true: Both technologies - which are, at core, quite similar - have a lot going for them. WiMAX may have had a head start, but both should peacefully coexist for the foreseeable future, much as CDMA and GSM do in their various flavors today.

Nevertheless, it's worth keeping an eye on the incremental advances made by proponents of both. And today it's the WiMAX fans' turn to smile. ®

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