Clearwire adds ‘pick 2’ bundles to Portland, Atlanta

Less than six months after first introducing WiMax services in Portland, Ore., Clearwire is already starting to mix in some aggressive pricing promotions, including a new unlimited-use home and mobile package for $55 per month.

In a call late last week following up on the company’s first-quarter earnings announcement, Clearwire chief strategy officer Scott Richardson said that some better-than-expected network performance was partially behind the idea of the new “bundled” pricing plans, which hadn’t previously been available in Portland. Richardson also said that there will likely be more service and gear pricing promotions as more cities come online later this year, from both Clearwire and its hardware partners.

“We’re still fidgeting a bit [on pricing plans], but in Portland we’re getting more aggressive on the bundles,” said Richardson. The idea of having one account for two plans — a home base station connection and a mobile device connection — was part of the initial service offerings for the Sprint “Xohm” service launch last year in Baltimore, but Clearwire initially didn’t offer such plans in Portland. Now, Richardson said, Clearwire will push the “Pick 2” strategy in Portland as well as in Atlanta, where the company recently started offering services.

Without getting too deep into technical details, Richardson said that part of the company’s confidence comes from some better-than-expected performance in its network operations, specifically in the area of management of network congestion. As it turns out, the network “actually worked pretty well,” Richardson said, helping push Clearwire toward offering the bundled plans, which theoretically could produce a whole lot more network usage for not a whole lot more user cash.

The “Pick 2” unlimited plan promotions, for example, allow either a mobile and home connection — or two mobile connections — for just $55 a month (regular price $80/month), with download speeds of 6 Mbps. Such plans might be interesting to users who want to deploy Clearwire’s Clear Spot Wi-Fi/WiMax router, a $139.99 device that lets up to eight different Wi-Fi connections piggyback off a WiMax service plan. The “unlimited” part of the plan, Richardson said, is the part that other wireless data providers might have a hard time matching.

“Our friends in the 3G space [with similar products] are already limiting application use,” Richardson said. “Providing open access is the strategy that’s really important to us. I don’t think that’s the kind of thing the cellular guys can really support.”

The device side of the WiMax equation, however, hasn’t yet seen any big declines in pricing — in fact the Clearwire USB modem seems to have jumped a bit in price, from $49 at the January launch to $69.99 now. And WiMax-enabled laptops are still being sold with the connectivity at a premium price, of $60 to $80 extra over the regular list prices. Richardson, however, said to look for WiMax-connectivity hardware prices to drop when the leaves start their seasonal swoon.

“As a trend, [hardware] cost is coming down,” Richardson said. “It will move lower in the fall, across the category. You’ll see some promos from us, Intel, and laptop manufacturers as there is more awareness [and more Clearwire market launches].”

To check the full range of Clearwire’s Portland pricing plans, just go to the Clear web site and enter a downtown Portland address and zip code when prompted — we’ve never stayed at the Hotel Lucia, but its address works just fine for price-checking purposes.

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About Paul Kapustka

Paul Kapustka is a longtime journalist who has spent more than two decades covering the information technology business, Paul most recently has been focusing on mobility and how it has changed the computing and collaborative landscape. His newest project outside Mobile Enterprise 360 is a research and analysis operation called WiFi Journal. He is also editor in chief of Mobile Sports Report, which covers the intersection of mobile technology and sports business. Paul is also the founder of Sidecut Reports, a research firm that covered the emergence of 4G technology in the cellular marketplace.