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Summary:

Amid upcoming competition from next-generation networks, Clearwire is adding prepaid options for its WiMAX service. Although the national network is expected to cover 120 million by the end of 2010, it has cost billions and only attracted 1.7 million customers. Will prepaid speed up WiMAX adoption?

roverpuck

Clearwire today added unlimited pay-as-you-go plans under the Rover brand to its national WiMAX service, which currently covers a population of 56 million in 49 markets. The move was expected, but the pricing and plans are a big deal that could drive the adoption of mobile broadband beyond the corporate and geeky set. Plans are priced at $5 per day, $20 a week or $50 for a month of unlimited 4G mobile broadband without a contract.

The new Rover plans are due in part to increased competition as rival 4G networks are expected to launch before year end, and also to give potential customers a low-risk opportunity to try out the Clear network. By offering a prepaid solution, the mobile broadband provider may be able to overcome a slow start for consumer adoption and offset the several billion dollars it cost to build out the network. Earlier this month, Clearwire announced it has 1.7 million subscribers and expects 3 million by the end of this year.

On a conference call this morning, Seth Cummings, the general manager of Rover, introduced the new brand, targeted at the 18- to 24-year-old demographic in urban areas. The flagship hardware product is a $149 Rover Puck: essentially a Mi-Fi-like device that shares a 4G connection with up to eight devices over Wi-Fi. Clearwire is also offering the $99 Rover Stick, a USB WiMAX dongle for customers to use with a single device, such as a netbook or notebook. Clearwire Chief Commercial Officer Mike Sievert said users can expect download speeds of 3 – 6 Mbps using either device. Both devices can be reloaded online or through a Rover Re-Up card available in $20 and $50 denominations, and are usable in any Clearwire market with service.

The new Rover service will be sold through various partner channels, such as cable companies and retailers like Best Buy. Sievert used this morning’s call to highlight these relationships and touted the network’s speed. My own testing of Clearwire’s 4G service has shown high speeds and low network latency, but network coverage issues have kept me on a 3G plan so I don’t have to worry about having consistent mobile broadband service. This could be a big issue for those interested in Rover, as the new products don’t fall back to 3G network in areas with weak or no 4G signals. Cummings said that the company is looking at future Rover products that could be dual-mode, but Sievert says the majority of Clearwire devices are single-mode, 4G-only. My gut says that Rover is geared towards the “urban mobile lifestyle” because Clearwire’s coverage is often better in cities than in rural areas.

The new Rover brand and plans illustrate that Clearwire’s “early to market” advantage is disappearing, even though Sievert said today, “it doesn’t matter what our competitors are doing.” MetroPCS is reportedly preparing its LTE network to go live within the next few weeks, while Verizon Wireless (s vz) is targeting 25 – 30 markets for its own LTE service before year end: a 5 – 12 Mbps network that should be completely rolled out by 2014. Factor in AT&T’s HSPA+ upgrade to 7.2 Mbps currently in progress, and T-Mobile’s completion of a 21 Mbps network by the end of this year, and it’s easy to see why Clearwire needs to add new plans and target new mobile broadband audiences.

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  1. i think it is about 10 to 15 dollars too expensive to have super widespread appeal. if they drop the price to $35/month this would be super popular and put heavy pressure on cable and DSL to get more competitive.

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    1. I hear you on the pricing, but I’m paying $60 a month for 3G service, which is capped at 5 GB. Getting unlimited mobile broadband for $10 less and without a 2-year contract should appeal to some. For those that have excellent Clearwire coverage, this could be the only Internet connection needed — for home or mobile, so in that light this is a steal at these prices.

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      1. yes. they will take customers who are currently buying mobile broadband from others.

        but the huge untapped market are those people who do not yet have mobile broadband. i think the pricing is still too high to get those customers in large numbers.

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  2. SICS (not “sicks”)
    jeez…

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    1. Patricia, that’s what I get for listening to the Clearwire webcast about Rover while writing. Shame on me and thanks for catching it. Fixed!

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  3. does the rover puck have an ethernet port? this would be a big plus if they want be the ‘only connection’

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    1. Nope, no ethernet port, just a small USB port.

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  4. [...] in the U.S., is showing signs that it too could join the map of LTE participants. Sure, the company just introduced relatively affordable and unlimited prepaid plans yesterday, but that strategy is to get customers on the network before competitors roll out their own [...]

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  5. [...] and LTE services from Verizon, consumers at both ends of the U.S. can opt for fast data devices, even prepaid ones, that will help ease the crunch for mobile [...]

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  6. [...] in the prepaid market, Clearwire’s new Rover brand offers inexpensive unlimited 4G service for the commitment-shy looking for fast speeds. Use as much 4G data as you can at $5 per day, $20 a week or $50 for a [...]

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