Clearwire recap: Services, devices and a new CEO

Before Clearwire Corp.’s (NASDAQ: CLWR) first quarterly conference call as a fully merged entity on March 5, we asked some questions about what the company might reveal. So how did Clearwire do in answering them? Let’s go to the scorecard!

We asked: Where else will Clearwire launch services, and when?
Clearwire answered: Lots of places, including Atlanta and Las Vegas in the summer of 2009; Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth, Honolulu, and Charlotte, N.C. later in the year; and a re-launch of the Xohm services in Baltimore as well. Then Clearwire added in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Houston for 2010, a big-city push that wasn’t altogether unexpected. Clearwire will also roll out a bunch of smaller markets, mostly conversions of the pre-WiMax services it already has in place.
The Skinny: A pretty bold answer. It was the most important information on the call, and Clearwire went a long way toward answering those who doubted the company would ever get its signals going. Now all they have to do is deliver.

We asked: How many subscribers have signed up in Baltimore?
Clearwire answered: Not so clearly — buried in its release, and so clouded that even company executives weren’t completely sure of the numbers — was a report that Clearwire signed up only 5,000 new customers in all its markets, pre-WiMax and Baltimore, in the last quarter of 2008. Since the company doesn’t break out subscriber numbers by market, we can only guess what smaller fraction of 5,000 represents WiMax customers in Baltimore.
The Skinny: A fairly epic fail. Even though Clearwire purposely stopped marketing its pre-WiMax services, and pulled the plug on all Baltimore marketing after the Sept. 29 launch of Xohm services, the sub-5,000 total is an extremely slow, stumbling start to the advent of 4G mobile services. Clearwire’s decision to pull back and re-do the Baltimore network is probably a sound one, since the first try didn’t apparently light enough fires. Any bets that Clearwire is keeping quiet about Baltimore’s bumble since it was largely the product of Sprint Nextel — still the majority owner of the new Clearwire?

We asked: Where’s Barry? (meaning Barry West, Clearwire President, who was MIA at the Portland launch event and silent since the Baltimore ceremonies)
Clearwire answered: He’s still here, and will be giving a keynote speech at the upcoming CTIA show. Now, of course, we know why Barry may have been keeping silent — behind the scenes, the company was actively recruiting William Morrow to take over as CEO, an announcement made the Monday after the March 5 call. Makes sense that West wouldn’t offer his opinions if he knew a new chief was about to take the helm.
The Skinny: A delayed answer. The question remains, but instead of “can Barry work with Ben,” it now becomes a question of whether the dynamic Mr. West is a good fit with his new boss, Mr. Morrow. With former CEO Ben Wolff and West both scheduled to speak at the upcoming CTIA show, it will be telling to see if either one surrenders the stage to the new CEO.

We asked: Where are the devices?
Clearwire answered: They’re coming! They’re coming! Really! But the only “new” devices announced were a dual-mode 3G/4G modem that will work like Sprint’s already available product, and the portable WiMax/Wi-Fi modem that we told everyone about back in January.
The Skinny: A mild fail. We and others have said it before and will say it again: PC cards and USB dongles ain’t sexy. And they are not likely to spark the great new wireless data rush that everyone wants to believe will happen. Mobile Internet devices? Smartphones? WiMax cameras? Maybe those will be part of the “100 devices” former CEO Wolff said will be out by the end of the year. Sounds great, but there are only 8 months left in 2009… tick, tick, tick.

We asked: When will Xohm go away?
Clearwire answered: Baltimore will be relaunched later in 2009.
The Skinny: We already covered this pretty well with the Baltimore numbers answer above, but the persistence of Xohm marketing, Xohm web pages, and Xohm links from partner web sites detracts from Clearwire’s marketing message each day the name survives. Let’s see how long the new CEO lets the Xohm sites stay alive.

Need to know more about WiMax? Order our WiMax Market Report, new for 2009, with all the details of Clearwire’s merger with Sprint and its launch of WiMax services in Portland, Ore.

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.

Comments

  1. Baltimore is still alive … just tried to use the service this past week. Two retail outlets in Baltimore will sell you Xohm access products and you sign up for service online.

    Sadly, after two tries at the the USB modem and 3 hours on the phone with Xohm tech support, still could not successfully get the modem software to install. And without a working modem, access to the service is certainly challenging.

    Completely different modem and different client software than the Portland network which I has tested the week prior.