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Clearwire…a little LTE plastic surgery and suddenly the Belle of the Ball?

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blog-0364443001330563261.jpgby Robert Herron
Sprint 4G Rollout Updates
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 5:37 PM MST

 

Clearwire. Clearwire. Clearwire! Clearwire!!! And Dan Hesse wakes up.

Clearwire has often been the bain of Sprint’s existence. Once hopeful adopted child. Then run amok with its own plans, disregarding everything its Daddy taught them. And then prodigal child returning home. And now Clearwire is out of wireless rehab with its new CEO Eric Prusch and trying to get things turned around. And its future is looking more promising than its past.

 

Come on? Really? An iPhone that runs on Clearwire? Stop joshing me…

Clearwire is attempting to get its LTE feet under them and transition into a high performance TD-LTE network from its previous 4G WiMax attempt. This is seen as very good news to most. Now there are even rumors of a chance to host the new LTE iPhone that’s anticipated.

Is it possible the next iPhone LTE could support Clearwire’s TD-LTE network? Clearwire CEO Eric Prusch told CNET that there would be no inherent difficulties for Apple to include support for its TD-LTE network in the iPhone 5 LTE. Prusch stopped short of saying whether he knew that the next iPhone would support running on Clearwire’s upcoming network. Of course Sprint and Apple have declined to comment.

Sprint and Clearwire are collaborating to seamlessly integrate Sprint’s FD-LTE network with Clearwire’s TD-LTE network. There are several chipsets on the market that support both together, and more expected. This coming together in a new iPhone LTE product is now becoming more plausible.

 

TD-LTE is gaining deployment momentum globally

Clearwire isn’t going it alone this time with TD-LTE. They certainly weren’t the only WiMax adopters in the world, but in the American wireless industry they sure felt like odd ducks on their own. This time, Clearwire is working together with several TD-LTE carriers internationally in the GTI (Global TD-LTE Initiative). Most notably, China Mobile.

China Mobile is rapidly building out its first 20,000 TD-LTE sites this year. China Mobile and Clearwire are working together to ensure interoperability between the networks. TD-LTE networks are also under way in India and Japan this year. More to follow.

A majority of new LTE deployments slated to start in the next few years are TD-LTE networks like Clearwire. This is because much of the left-to-be-exploited spectrum globally tends to be higher unpaired frequencies, which TDD is designed for.

 

Clearwire in turn gets to save Sprint, after Sprint saved it

Sprint is deploying its own FD-LTE network nationwide on 1900MHz PCS spectrum and later adding 800MHz SMR spectrum. However, Sprint’s new LTE network will not provide enough capacity it will need for its customers when they start to migrate to LTE en masse in dense subscriber environments.

Sprint needs Clearwire for additional LTE capacity. Some estimate that Sprint could feel the pinch on their new LTE networks in as soon as 12 months after initial deployment in dense urban areas. This makes use of Clearwire for additional LTE capacity crucial for Sprint in the long term in places where Sprint’s two native 5x5 FD-LTE carriers on 800MHz and 1900MHz start to suffer from reduced performance due to congestion.

 

Retail model out, Wholesale to the future

Clearwire started to transition away from a full retail model in 2011, as they started shuttering its stores nationwide. Clearwire continues to pare down its retail business strategy, choosing to only pursue an online presence for this category. They also recently started pulling back from its old generation Pre-WiMax Expedience network. Now only leaving a static WiMax network they have left to Ericsson to maintain until 2015 and the build out of their new TD-LTE network for their future.

Clearwire’s future revenue generation is largely squared with a revised wholesale business model. Currently, that is almost solely dependent on Sprint. However, Clearwire wants to diversify its wholesale business model and take on several new customers. And it will take having its new LTE network up and running to do that on a large scale. The wholesale LTE business climate has definitely improved with the sudden demise of LightSquared. Many speculated whether the market could support two LTE wholesale companies.

 

Looking for a LTE partner to do-si-do?

Clearwire is aggressively seeking new LTE partnerships. They would likely partner with anyone needing a supplemental LTE network. At first thought, it may be easy to conclude that Clearwire would be a good fit as a LTE partner roaming for second tier and regional wireless carriers. These were LightSquared’s bread and butter. But LightSquared was looking to build a nationwide network on 1600MHz. Clearwire does not have those luxuries, it will neither be nationwide anytime soon, nor will its coverage even be comprehensive across any single market.

 

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Clearwire will not be a good fit for roaming deals, expanding 4G coverage nationally for smaller networks. However, Clearwire could be a good fit for those same wireless carriers in markets where they both are already co-located. For instance, let’s take San Francisco for example. MetroPCS has good coverage from its LTE network there. But Metro PCS has pretty low 4G speeds and low capacity. Clearwire is likely to deploy its TD-LTE network in a market like San Francisco early. So when Clearwire gets its SFO coverage well deployed, it will be on hundreds of sites around Frisco.

The Clearwire coverage from these 100’s of sites will look like reverse swiss cheese, though. There will be a whole bunch of cheesy holes of LTE coverage all over. Each one of these Clearwire crop circles of LTE coverage will be blazing fast and support a lot of users with all the spectrum that Clearwire sits on. But in going from crop circle to crop circle, you need LTE in between them on the native network. So Clearwire will not be much help to those wireless carriers or MVNO’s who have no LTE network of their own to cover those notable gaps between Clearwire cells.

Companies like MetroPCS would do very well in a Clearwire TD-LTE wholesale environment, where Clearwire was providing additional capacity in markets that Metro PCS already serves with their own LTE network. Clearwire would not be a good fit for a wireless company that has no LTE network at all. Because the customer would then constantly be going in and out of LTE coverage within a market. This will not create a positive customer environment.

 

But wait, there is a catch!

Another potential issue with a wireless carrier like MetroPCS partnering up with Clearwire, is how do they handle non-native areas? Should Metro PCS LTE customers only be allowed to use Clearwire TD-LTE in markets where there is a Metro PCS native LTE network? What if that SFO customer traveled to Seattle?

MetroPCS does not have a native LTE network in Seattle. In this case, MetroPCS would have to decide whether to let their customers use the Clearwire TD-LTE in non-native LTE areas and have frustratingly spotty service, or to just block that Clearwire service ever from even being used. This is kind of an uncomfortable choice to make. The issues with smaller wireless companies using Clearwire for an out of market LTE roaming experience are starting to be highlighted and magnified with this instance.

 

Yeah, there is a work around for that…Sprint

One solution to the problems above is to set up a wholesale or roaming deal with Sprint and Clearwire together, or even a MVNO with both companies. Or better yet, Sprint earned the ability to wholesale Clearwire’s TD-LTE network in the past round of negotiations with Clearwire. So smaller carriers could just go straight to Sprint to negotiate a LTE wholesale, roaming or MVNO solution, and skip trying to set up two separate deals with each.

These are possible comprehensive solutions for wireless carriers that are in pursuit of LTE wholesale options. The biggest challenge to this really becomes devices that will run not only on several Sprint and Clearwire LTE frequencies, but their own native networks too. And for some small wireless companies, this may even be an insurmountable obstacle for them.

 

The best suited wholesale customers for Clearwire is the Big Dogs

Clearwire is pretty well suited for additional capacity to 4G wireless carriers that already share markets with Clearwire nationwide. These are more likely to be Sprint’s direct competitors. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

Although this wouldn’t make Sprint very happy, Clearwire would be just fine and dandy supplementing Sprint’s competitiors with more 4G LTE capacity…if they can make money at it. They are not in the position to be to choicey at this time. (the typo is intentional)

 

The engagement is back on, but a wedding date has not been scheduled

The future for Clearwire is starting to look a little clearer and a little more optimistic. There are many forks in the road ahead, and there will be many dips and twists in the direction it heads toward. In the foreseeable future, Sprint and Clearwire will be well entwined. Sprint needs Clearwire’s spectrum for capacity to supplement their infant LTE network, and Clearwire needs Sprint to keep playing the sugar daddy.

And probably just as Clearwire starts to get legs and starts earning enough revenue to support itself, Sprint will likely sweep in and buy out the rest of the company. To keep it from changing course and possibly damaging Sprint’s future…once again.

 

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I think if the coverage of their LTE is better than their Wimax they will have a great chance of digging themselves out of their hole.

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Thanks. It probably should have been a two-parter. I had to remove lots of details.

 

- Robert

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First Nextel then Clear...maybe Sprint needs to just stick to themselves.

 

It seems like Sprint might have the last laugh IF they are able to repurpose the Nextel spectrum as planned.

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It will be much less. For a long, long time. :(

so they are not converting each Wimax tower over to LTE then?

 

I would think they would tackle their current wimax towers and just convert each one of them over no? Or are you saying their conversion plan is very very very drawn out even though they are converting a fraction of the towers and a fraction of the work compared to even one of the 4 companies doing sprints NV rollout...?

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It will be much less. For a long, long time. :(

 

I meant not being spotty as hell like Wimax is. Better penetration would help them too.

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I meant not being spotty as hell like Wimax is. Better penetration would help them too.

penetration wont improve till the technology for the radios and antennae's improve as the freq they use is the main issue with that.

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I was reading an argument between two people in a forum about this. They were arguing over whether 2500 mhz penetration improves when going from WiMax to TD-LTE. I don't know enough about it.. anyone know if the penetration/coverage improves based on the tech for the same given frequency (WiMax, TD-LTE, FD-LTE)?

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from what i've read it makes no difference b/c the freq is the freq. only way itd improve is if the antennae is vastly improved...which is why if clear would of put out LTE instead of WiMax just as many ppl would of been complaining as there are about WiMax b/c coverage would be no different...

 

though someone feel free to correct me if im wrong there.

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so they are not converting each Wimax tower over to LTE then?I would think they would tackle their current wimax towers and just convert each one of them over no? Or are you saying their conversion plan is very very very drawn out even though they are converting a fraction of the towers and a fraction of the work compared to even one of the 4 companies doing sprints NV rollout...?

 

Clearwire will not convert each tower to LTE initially. They said in their Q4 CC that they plan to launch 5000 towers with LTE by June 2013 and if all goes well, then another 3000 towers will be added with LTE shortly for a total of 8000 towers

 

Clearwire has about 16000 towers throughout the country so even by end of 2013, only half of the towers will have the LTE overlay. Of course this is their current plan based on the finances that they have. If Clearwire can get some major customer and minor customers from Lightsquared then things may change and they can cover all 16000 towers with LTE. 16000 towers is obviously not enough especially with 2.5 Ghz to deploy enough coverage nationwide and that is a problem Clearwire will have to deal with for future growth.

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I was reading an argument between two people in a forum about this. They were arguing over whether 2500 mhz penetration improves when going from WiMax to TD-LTE. I don't know enough about it.. anyone know if the penetration/coverage improves based on the tech for the same given frequency (WiMax, TD-LTE, FD-LTE)?

 

Does the signal improve between WiMax and TD-LTE, all other things being perfectly equal? No. However, if they do a new deployment of radios and adopt a behind the panel RRU in the new LTE rollout, then this would provide a modest signal gain and thus a modest penetration and coverage gain over what was deployed with WiMax. But it has nothing to do with the difference between WiMax and LTE. The same improvement would occur if they were switching out to WiMax 2 now with new radios.

 

However, all this aside, it's my understanding that Clearwire is deploying its LTE directly within the WiMax ecosystem. No new radios. No new antennas/panels. All the changes occurring at the base cabinet only. Clearwire was touting this when they said it was only going to cost them $600M to rollout LTE. A price tag that I thought was suspect from the moment I heard it.

 

Supposedly, Clearwire said that most of their markets could have TD-LTE added to the base stations and broadcast over the same radios/antennas, coexisting with WiMax operations. This could occur in most of their markets. The original WiMax markets like Baltimore and Portland would need much greater work, as these older WiMax system will not accommodate the LTE additions.

 

So in this light, I would say that there is likely to be no noticeable signal difference between Clearwire's WiMax and the TD-LTE broadcast from the same site, using the same equipment.

 

But I am going to throw one caveat out there to you. Sprint is supposedly going to add Clearwire TD-LTE hotspots to some of its Network Vision towers starting in 2013. In markets where Sprint needs Clearwire hotspots for LTE capacity, but Clearwire does not have sites, then Sprint NV sites will host Clearwire LTE. And these sites would likely be deployed with new remote RRU's. These sites would likely have moderately improved propagation over other Clearwire sites. And even though there are some improvements in signal here, it is not because of the difference between WiMax and LTE.

 

Clearwire will not convert each tower to LTE initially. They said in their Q4 CC that they plan to launch 5000 towers with LTE by June 2013 and if all goes well, then another 3000 towers will be added with LTE shortly for a total of 8000 towers Clearwire has about 16000 towers throughout the country so even by end of 2013, only half of the towers will have the LTE overlay. Of course this is their current plan based on the finances that they have. If Clearwire can get some major customer and minor customers from Lightsquared then things may change and they can cover all 16000 towers with LTE. 16000 towers is obviously not enough especially with 2.5 Ghz to deploy enough coverage nationwide and that is a problem Clearwire will have to deal with for future growth.

 

It takes roughly five 2500MHz sites to cover the area of one 1900MHz site. That means in the most crudest estimate, it would take almost 200,000 Clearwire LTE (or the previous WiMax) sites to cover the entire existing Sprint coverage area. Of course, this is based on the maximum spacing allowed by each. You can see why with number like this, Clearwire was never going to make it as a nationwide 4G wireless solution.

 

The real number would be smaller, because in the densest urban environments, the cell size between PCS and EBS/BRS would be pretty similar. So maybe the final number of sites needed would end up being 125k or 150k. But it's a lot! And more than could ever be economical feasible. Especially now in a wholesale environment that Clearwire is pursuing, with lower margins.

 

Clearwire's new approach to convert its existing markets in the highest capacity areas and providing hotspot capacity adds for other wireless companies is probably the best shot they have. Clearwire will never be a seamless coverage carrier in any market, nor nationwide. To build that kind of network in a country like the U.S. is cost prohibitive and will never work with a business model designed to make money.

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Robert, you alluded to this in your previous comment, but if Clearwire wanted to increase their footprint, couldn't Sprint host Clearire LTE on Network Vision sites? Network Vision was supposed to allow Sprint to do spectrum hosting. So maybe Sprint hosts Clearwire, while Clearwire wholesales back to Sprint? That would also give Clearwire a nearly nationwide footprint.

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Robert, you alluded to this in your previous comment, but if Clearwire wanted to increase their footprint, couldn't Sprint host Clearire LTE on Network Vision sites? Network Vision was supposed to allow Sprint to do spectrum hosting. So maybe Sprint hosts Clearwire, while Clearwire wholesales back to Sprint? That would also give Clearwire a nearly nationwide footprint.

Wanna say Robert discussed this in the NV thread to an extent.

The original idea was that they would do what you state and toss the 2.5GHz on the towers as they are doing the NV rollout and knock it all out at once, BUT evidently discussions b/w Sprint/Clearwire didn't work out as planned and they couldn't come to an agreement on terms for it....So it in a sense left Clearwire by itself to do their LTE for most of it...

 

Funny the company you have majority ownership in, you can't "force" them into an agreement...lol

 

I will say it would be cool if they did what Verizon did in Indianapolis for the superbowl and used the repeaters and smaller antennae throughout the city to handle the traffic....least in the troubled areas.

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I believe the iPhone is very possible on Clear's network. Apple is really trying to get their iphone on China Mobile's network with their 600+ million subscribers. Clear is working with China mobile to have their networks work together, plus the New Qualcomm Gobi Chip supports TD-LTE, LTE, TD-CDMA, CDMA, and GSM. Qualcomm makes the MDM6600 and MDM6610 which are in the 4 and 4s respectively.

 

 

Nokia Siemens created some technology for TD-LTE networks that increases their Capacity by 80% and coverage by 40%. Also reduce site costs to 1/3.

link to presentation by nokia

http://lteworld.org/presentation/cost-efficient-td-lte-6-pipes-remote-radio-head

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Nice to see that Clearwire will be rolling out 20 Mhz TD-LTE carriers. Now if they would just roll out multiple carriers per site in the densest urban areas... we might have something here.

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penetration wont improve till the technology for the radios and antennae's improve as the freq they use is the main issue with that.

 

Even outside Wimax can be pretty bad. If NV helps with coverage it could be better.

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