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October 11, 2006 at 9:44 AM

WiMax World: Clearwire gives updates

BOSTON — This morning at WiMax World, Ben Wolff, co-chief executive of Clearwire, offered a rare glimpse into the Kirkland company.

Since October 2003, the company has building WiMax-like networks in select U.S. cities and some European countries. It is currently building fixed WiMax services, which compete with DSL and cable in the home. Customers who sign up for the service buy a modem that can fit in a briefcase and plug it into a wall connection on one end and into their computer on the other to get Internet access. The service is considered portable because it can be accessed anywhere in a given service territory, as long as electricity is available. The service costs roughly $30 to $37 a month, depending on desired speeds. That doesn’t include a $5-a-month modem fee.

During this morning’s keynote, Wolff unveiled a series of facts and figures about the company.

Some of the details are interesting primarily to industry insiders, but some give a little insight to the service.

— Wolff said when the cellular industry was first launching, forecasts placed growth rates at 1 to 2 percent. That’s the speed at which Clearwire is growing every quarter or two, Wolff said. “We are we seeing tremendous demand for our services,” he said.

— At the end of 2005, the company had 50,000 subscribers. Nine months later, Wolff said it had 162,000. That’s out of the 5.6 million people who could have access to Clearwire’s service in 31 markets.

— It currently has enough spectrum today to reach 210 million people in the U.S., or two-thirds of the nation’s population.

— In surveys of customers, Clearwire has found that 10 percent had no Internet access before; 32 percent switched from dial-up; and 58 percent had wireline broadband.

— Wolff said the top three reasons consumers buy the service were simplicity, portability and speed. “Two-thirds of customers are selecting us because of portability,” he said. “It can fit in briefcase, and has to be plugged into power, but when chips are built into devices and PC cards, the portability and mobility aspects will go through the roof.”

UPDATE: In my conversation with Ben Wolff later in the day, he corrected me on one of these points. He clarified that when the wireless industry was just getting started it predicted 1 to 2 percent penetration rates in total, as in forever, not each year as I had originally stated.

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