Clearwire to Launch Pre-Paid WiMAX Service

Clearwire (s clwr) is expected to announce a pay-as-you-go option for its Clear WiMAX service on Monday according to the Kirkland, Wash.-based company’s Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday found by Moconews. Currently, Clearwire offers 4G mobile broadband on both a contract basis and month-to-month basis, but not in a short-term, pay-as-you-go scenario. Such an offering would bring new revenue streams to Clearwire as consumers seek more flexible plan options without long-term commitments.

Clearwire’s new plans are hitting at a time where competition is increasing. Earlier this week, Virgin Mobile USA announced a new $40 monthly plan that provides unlimited 3G data usage over a 30-day time period. Ironically, Sprint (s s) both owns Virgin Mobile USA and has a majority stake in Clearwire, so the carrier is looking to leverage pre-paid data in both the 3G and 4G markets. Sprint’s major CDMA competitor, Verizon (s vz), has opted to make contract data plans more attractive: 5GB of 3G is $60 per month with contract but $80 on a prepaid plan.

Why else might Clearwire being adding new plan options? The service provider has been in a race from day one, both to build out a national 4G network and to add customers to it as other carriers accelerate their next generation data networks. Clearwire started its rollout in late 2008 and, as of earlier this month, covers 51 million people in 49 markets. Just this year however, T-Mobile began to implement an HSPA+ upgrade and already provides coverage for more than 75 million people with speeds as fast as, if not faster than, Clearwire’s WiMAX service. Don’t count Verizon out just yet either, as it’s expected to launch its faster LTE service before the end of this year. And AT&T (s t) has quietly been upgrading its HSPA+ network throughout the year.

At this point, Clearwire is likely looking to add as many customers as it can to its 4G service, because the advantage it had in building a national network before everyone else diminishes each day. Providing convenient mobile broadband without any contracts is a way to eke out any remaining “first to market” advantage Clearwire still has while it continues to build its WiMAX network.

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