Clearwire & Sprint Agree on WiMAX Roaming

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Clearwire and Sprint have agreed to provide Mobile WiMAX roaming between the two companys’ networks, reports the Wall Street Journal. Sprint also plans to provide dual-mode, CDMA-WiMAX services nationwide, using both its own and Clearwire’s WiMAX networks, reports RCR News.

Under the network build-out plan, Sprint will focus primarily on geographic areas covering approximately 185 million people, including 75 percent of the people located in the 50 largest markets, while Clearwire will focus on areas covering approximately 115 million people. Initially, the two companies expect to build out network coverage to approximately 100 million people by the end of 2008, with seamless roaming enabled between the deployed areas.

The agreement runs for 20 years, says the Seattle PI, with the ability for 10-year renewals. Sprint will build about 65 percent of the network, with the remainder falling to Clearwire. No cash will be exchanged between the two companies, though Clearwire will be able to enter commercial agreements to use Sprint Nextel’s towers, long distance, fiber networks, retail stores and other services.

Recently, Clearwire announced an agreement with satellite providers DirecTV and EchoStar that will allow the Kirkland Wash., start-up to bundle its high-speed wireless Web access with their TV programming.

Clearwire launched its first market in August 2004 and now offers service in 40 markets in more than 400 municipalities in 13 states across the U.S. Clearwire says it now has 258,000 customers (as of March 2007) in the United States and abroad. Clearwire’s frequencies now cover 205 million people in the U.S., according to their SEC filing. Clearwire also owns frequencies in Europe, covering 117 million people, and a recent German auction adds coverage of 82.5 million more.

We will have 100 million covered by the end of 2008 and be in 35 markets,” said Sprint’s Barry West earlier this year. “We’re soft launching in Washington and Chicago in December and launching commercially in April of 2008.” The Sprint WiMAX mobile broadband network covers 85 percent of the households in the top 100 U.S. markets.

To support roaming, Sprint and Clearwire need to support a compatible architecture. The topology includes the Access Service Network (ASN) and a Connectivity Service Network (CSN).

The ASN coordinates traffic across multiple Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) and supports handoff. The CSN manages core network operations and an interface to other operators’ networks.

The WiMAX Forum Networking Working Group (NWG) extends interoperability to the ASN and CSN architecture. A hierarchical model with a topology similar to that used in cellular networks is used for handoff. Both Clearwire and Sprint support profile C, where the radio functionality resides in the base station and the network management (roaming) funtionality resides in the ASN gateway, according to Senza Fili’s white paper (pdf).

Global Tower Partners owns and operates some 2,500 towers and 4,600 rooftop sites in the United States and Puerto Rico. They have been working with Clearwire for more than two years. Clearwire will probably deploy about 1,500 sites this year, next year, in excess of 3,000 sites, and it could represent around 15% of total sites deployed next year, which ought to be something like 20,000 new cell sites,” says Mark DeRussy, analyst at Raymond James.

“The notion that WiMAX networks won’t require as many towers is completely false,” says RBC Capital Markets Analyst Jonathan Atkin. “Can WiMAX go 30 miles point to point? Sure, because it works in a higher frequency than 3G equipment does. But no matter what technology is deployed, high-speed networks require a denser footprint of cell sites than voice networks.” WiMAX Forum says a mid-sized city with a population of 1.75 million covering 1,500 km2 area (pdf) could start with low complexity base stations this year, then switch to more advanced base station antenna systems (with beamforming) in later years to match customer growth.

In its first 25 markets, Clearwire has been able to achieve a 10.4% average household penetration with gross margins rising to 72% before adding mobility to the mix, which it will do in late 2007, says The WiMAX Explosion!, a 267-page report from former CEO of Nynex Mobile, and Victor Schnee, founder of Probe Research, a well-known telecom forecaster.

In related news, Sprint said it will use ZTE’s express and USB cards as well as ZTE’s home networking gear. Sprint also has equipment deals with Motorola, Nokia and Samsung.

Maravedis estimated the broadband wireless licensees (below), from the FCC’s ULS License Search web site. Clearwire bought 2.5 GHz spectrum owned by BellSouth for about $300 million. The spectrum is for markets located in the Southeast of the United States.

Licensee PSA BTA Potential Subs
BellSouth Wireless 36 6 9,070,577
Clearwire 59 24 4,693,347
Nextel/Sprint 268 198 157,519,832

Protected Service Areas (PSA) is an exclusive license service granted to either a BRS or EBS licensee. Each PSA is comprised of a 35 Mile Radius surrounding the licensed transmitter site.

Basic Trading Areas (BTA) is geographic region defined by a group of counties that surround a city as formulated by Rand McNally. There are 493 BTAs in the U.S.

Senza-Fili Consulting projects 54 million WiMAX subscribers by 2012, with growth driven by emerging markets. By 2012, 61% of WiMAX subscribers will use the technology for mobile access. A third of them will also use WiMAX as a fixed-access technology.

Not everyone is sold on Sprint’s venture into “4G”. “WiMax was a reckless journey from the get-go,” said Patrick Comack, senior equity analyst with Zachary Investment Research. “Sprint bought into it without testing it in pre-trials.”

Related DailyWireless articles include; Clearwire & SatTV Do a Deal, Sprint’s WiMAX Cities, Nortel: WiMAX Train Leaving Station, Clearwire Operational in Hillsboro, Clearwire Gets Carded, Sprint’s Barry West and Clearwire’s Benjamin Wolff.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Wednesday, July 18th, 2007 at 10:43 pm .

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