Just like a hungry uncle devouring Thanksgiving leftovers, the new Clearwire wasted no time tying up the loose ends of its WiMax assets merger deal with Sprint Nextel, finishing the deal Friday while everyone else in the country was busy digesting the previous night’s feasts.
With a conference call scheduled for early Monday morning, some business details that have been waiting for the merger’s completion (like when the Chicago and D.C. networks will be live) should finally be made public. While you will be able to read that news here soon after we learn it, today we’re setting out our own agenda for the new Clearwire and some things we think it needs to get done in the first 100 days to keep its market lead over the eventual competition in the rapidly expanding mobile-data market.
Specifically, there are three things that Clearwire needs to do well and quickly to increase its chances of success, not just against the coming Long Term Evolution deployments from telcos like AT&T and Verizon, but against the already existing 3G services, which are still used only by a small minority of the Internet community.
1) Get some new devices to market, quickly. During 2008, WiMax promoters from all corners talked about how new gizmos like mobile Internet devices would help launch the mobile connected era. Yet when Sprint launched its Xohm service in September, the only devices available were dongles, PC cards, laptops and base stations — and the somewhat expensive and curiously under-marketed Nokia WiMax tablet. If a combo WiMax/GSM phone that only works in Russia can still get headlines here, imagine the buzz that, say, a WiMax iPhone could generate. Or a Motorola Android WiMax phone? But it’s gotta happen fast. Dongles vs. the iPhone 3G isn’t much of a contest.
2) Explain the national roaming plan. With all the 2.5 GHz spectrum it has, the new Clearwire has more than enough licenses to offer a pretty good national coverage map. We are also hearing rumors of some kind of “Clearwire affiliate” program developing, where other WiMax providers using the 2.5 GHz spectrum (like rural provider DigitalBridge) would allow Clearwire users to roam on their networks, much like cell providers interact today. Then there’s the promised 3G/4G card from Sprint, which could ease a lot of coverage fears and get customers trying WiMax sooner rather than later. But the future plan for roaming needs to be explained quickly, for both consumers and corporations who are considering WiMax as their next-generation access platform.
3) Add VoIP to the feature mix — for no extra cost. I know the Clearwire folks love to talk about increasing ARPU (average revenue per user), and am pretty sure they are looking at Voice over IP services as a way to add incremental dollars from each network user. I’m here to suggest that by adding VoIP services to the all-inclusive service bundle, Clearwire could gain a lot more attention especially in tough economic times when folks are trying to save every way they can. It might mean some faster head-on competition with the telcos, whose advertising spending budgets dwarf Clearwire’s coffers. But that competition’s coming anyway, and better to strike first while you have the network advantage.
While there’s much more to wonder about — such as when we might see WiMax services offered by Clearwire’s cableco partners — answering the devices, roaming and VoIP questions quickly would help Clearwire get off to a running start in 2009. More, we’re sure, after Monday’s call.