updated 04:45 pm EDT, Wed August 3, 2011
Clearwire jumps to LTE as main 4G
Clearwire up-ended WiMAX with news Wednesday that it would make LTE and LTE Advanced its primary 4G formats. The rollout will give it peak speeds of 120Mbps or more using the same 2.5GHz frequencies and network that it already uses. While it will be LTE at first, it will be upgradeable to LTE Advanced when it becomes available and hit "at least" 100Mbps.
The costs will be relatively low with much of the network being reused. Clearwire took a thinly veiled shot at LightSquared's GPS interference problems and noted that its existing frequencies wouldn't cause a conflict. Among the tricks to get the speed up with LTE Advanced would be carrier aggregation, or pooling together networks similar to what's used to get 42Mbps and 84Mbps HSPA+ on 3G.
Along with the extra speed, the upgrade would provide a major advantage for international access, Clearwire said. Where 2.5GHz WiMAX is mostly limited to the US, it's being used for a number of 4G rollouts in other countries. The wider reach could improve Clearwire's bottom line by getting cheaper equipment as well as more commonly available devices.
It also hinted it might have not just faster speed but more headroom for LTE than Verizon, AT&T, and others signing on.
Deployments will initially focus on the more popular areas Clearwire already serves with WiMAX. Clearwire didn't give a timeframe for when the network rolled out but had already finished trials. Any expansion will be "subject to additional funding," according to the company, hinting that the struggling carrier might need help.
Clearwire's move parallels Sprint's openness to LTE and could change the dynamics of the US market. The 4G-only startup could never participate in the phone business while on WiMAX without having to also either use Sprint's CDMA network or develop its own. Voice over LTE, due to go live next year, will let Clearwire not only have some of the fastest data in the US but use its existing network for voice calls.
Other carriers are using different frequencies for LTE but could also see roaming with multi-band 4G hardware.