With a few days to spare, Clearwire today completed the first major phase of its nationwide mobile broadband rollout with the launch of WiMax service in San Francisco and the Bay Area. The final market added 4 million pops to its footprint, which, coupled with the 2 million pops added in the Denver area last week, bring Clearwire right up to only slight short of the 120 million pops coverage it targeted for year end.
Clearwire is now going head-to-head with Verizon Wireless, which rolled out long-term evolution (LTE) service with coverage of 110 million pops in one fell swoop last month. The two operators will be facing off marketing their own brand of ‘4G’ in many of the same markets, though their coverage footprints don’t entirely overlap. Clearwire had built WiMax networks 71 markets, many of them smaller cities where it launched its original fixed wireless broadband service. Meanwhile Verizon has focused its LTE efforts almost entirely in the major metro markets, covering some major cities Clearwire hasn’t yet reached.
Clearwire’s next phase of network building will require a substantial infusion of cash. Clearwire already plans to to issue debt for more than a $1 billion in funds and it has discussed selling off some of its ample 2.5 GHz spectrum and seeking cash from its current and new investors. How quickly Clearwire can put the Phase II plan in place will be key in competing with Verizon as well as AT&T and T-Mobile, which are becoming aggressive with their high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+) deployments. Verizon in particular has promised to turn on LTE markets at fast clip throughout 2011, while Clearwire has yet to announce a roll-out schedule.