The momentum to 4G picked up considerably this week as WiMax-based service provider Clearwire entered into a significant agreement with Cisco. The networking company will be the main player in the rollout of Clearwire services, which are marketed under the Clear brand, across the nation. Between now and the end of 2010, Clearwire says it will offer services in 80 markets, which account for more than 120 million people. Currently, Clear is available in Portland, Ore. and Baltimore. In addition, Cisco will build devices for Clear.
There is considerable discussion over the nature of the devices Cisco and Clearwire are dreaming up. That's a natural reaction, because bloggers and reporters-and reporter/bloggers-like to play guessing games, particularly when they involve shiny new widgets.
But the devices that will emerge aren't the biggest thing here. The real story is what this means in the evolutionary path of 4G. The perception during the past year or so has been that WiMax, despite being ready earlier, was losing ground to the other 4G aspirant, Long Term Evolution (LTE). A lof of that stemmed from the choice of LTE by both Verizon Wireless and AT&T. That perception was abetted by the seemingly difficult times Clearwire was having.
The ambitious announcement is just that-an announcement. Stacey Higginbotham points out that William Morrow, Clearwire's new CEO, slightly tweaked the message during the financial conference call earlier this week. Her point was that simply repeating that WiMax has a first-mover advantage isn't doing the trick. Instead, focusing on other WiMax advantages, such as a supposedly more open development environment, makes the technology seem like less of a sad sack and more of a full competitor. Being able to announce an "alliance"-the word was the term of choice in the press release-with Cisco certainly does nothing to hurt that image makeover.