The real problem with Clearwire’s networks

Ken Biba has sent a few comments about why Clearwire is failing and points out the flaws in their network. Ken’s firm, Novarum, has tested 3G, WiMAX and Wi-Fi networks. He says:

In driving and measuring a number of ClearWire cities, it is VERY obvious that the cell site density is much lower than required for a real 4G service. There are numerous cases of cell edge performance and marginal signal levels. I think you will find that Sprint – the first to deploy “4G” is now the slowest cellular data offering among ATT, TMobile and Verizon. ClearWire clearly pursued a business model of a low density deployment in order to cover the maximum number of cities with the capital they had. Coverage first – then capacity. To have a competitive product going forward, ClearWire (and Sprint) will have to invest in a much denser cell site deployment on their existing footprint.

Frankly, I think ClearWire’s sustainability as an operating business (as opposed to a spectrum farm) is at risk. At the frequencies they are deployed, they need more base stations per square mile in any case, and now they need more. And the version of WiMax they have deployed substantially underperforms LTE, even more so compared to an LTE deployment at 700 MHz (as ATT and Verizon are doing). Not clear how WiMax really survives under the combined pressure of niche technology, the long term domination of LTE and the interesting mid-term success of HSPA+. And without WiMax and capital – ClearWire’s only real asset is legacy customers in small rural markets and its spectrum.