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Clearwire: You want fast 4G?? How’s 168 Mbps?

The Big 4 carriers took a lot of swipes at one another at CTIA Wireless, arguing over which had the faster mobile broadband service and whose networks were and weren’t really 4G. Clearwire(s clwr) stayed out of the debate, but according to CTO John Saw the carrier is putting together an LTE network to shame all four of them. In 2014, Saw said Clearwire will have a 4G network capable of supporting peak speeds of 168 Mbps.

Clearwire may not have the most ideal spectrum in the world for a nationwide launch – its higher frequency 2.5 GHz airwaves don’t propagate as far as the low-frequency licenses everyone else owns – but it is certainly blessed with a lot of it. Consequently, Clearwire can string those frequencies together to build some enormously fat pipes, Saw said.

Saw said Clearwire plans to use the LTE-Advanced technique know as carrier aggregation to deploy an LTE pipe — which in wireless speak is called a carrier — 40 MHz in width. Verizon(s vz)(s vod) and AT&T’s(s t) largest carrier size is 20 MHz. (Clearwire’s TD-LTE is a different technology than its competitors, but in terms of speed and data capacity those differences come out in the wash).

Theoretically at least, Clearwire’s network will support peak speeds of 168 Mbps, twice as fast as anything Verizon, AT&T, Sprint(s s) and T-Mobile can throw at us, Saw said. Still, Clearwire has to wait for the technology to be ready. While carrier aggregation is already being used widely in HSPA+ — and is, in fact, the secret sauce in T-Mobile’s dual-carrier 42 Mbps service – it will take a few years for the technology to percolate into commercial LTE gear. Saw says he expects it to be ready for Clearwire’s network by 2014.

“We’re going to start with 20 MHz carriers,” he said. “When carrier aggregation comes along we will go to 40 MHz, which will essentially leave the competition in the dust.”

Clearwire doesn’t have to stop there. Technically it can keep stacking carriers on top of one another to create 60 MHz and even 80 MHz pipes. It certainly doesn’t lack the spectrum. At CTIA, Nokia Siemens Networks(s nok)(s si) had rigged up a demo that squeezed 1 Gbps out of Clearwire’s spectrum by not only piling on the carriers but using multiple antennas and several other technologies in LTE-Advanced’s bag of tricks. Saw said Huawei has accomplished similar feats using Clearwire’s airwaves, but he also acknowledged that such outsized throughput demos are really intended to be proofs of concept. Sixty MHz or 80 MHz carriers “would be overkill,” he said — at least in the near term.

Why don’t Verizon and AT&T do carrier aggregation as well? They have the technical capability, and they have unused spectrum to play with. The problem is their spectrum isn’t in the right places. For carrier aggregation to work initially all of the frequencies involved need to be contiguous, but most of the spectrum holdings of the Big 4 are scattered across the airwaves. Eventually the LTE standards will allow for non-contiguous aggregation – splicing together bands from all over the electromagnetic spectrum – but that’s a few steps further along the LTE roadmap.

At the end of the day, all of this speed talk is a bit silly. It’s great for bragging rights, but at today’s mobile data prices, no one could actually make regular use of such enormous throughputs without going broke. The near-term goal here isn’t to provide 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps to a single customer, but rather a consistent 5-10 Mbps to 100 different customers in the same cell. To hit that goal operators will need lots of spectrum and they’ll need to deploy lots of carriers, but it won’t matter if those carriers are bound together.

Speedometer image courtesy of Shutterstock user Sashkin

12 Responses to “Clearwire: You want fast 4G?? How’s 168 Mbps?”

  1. Manuel Sanchez

    I live in Houston, TX. and have had clear for just under a year. Despite being close to downtown and surrounded by three towers, I have never come close to their stated 4G speeds and am in fact constantly throttled. Even now I can even get .5mps at midnight on a weeknight. Needless to say I will be switching soon and I just recently signed my daughter up with Comcast and she is getting terrific download and upload speeds at her apt. I am very disappointed with Clearwire.

  2. Joel Hacker

    WTF do I need internet that’s that fast, anyway? We will still have ridiculous 5gb caps! I’m not good with math, but won’t that mean that the average person will be able to reach their monthly cap in about 1/2 hour?

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Kobe, Joel,

      Fair points, but hopefully we’ll actually see drops in data pricing in the next few years, and Clearwire and the carriers that use it’s network will be the ones applying that price pressure. Remember Sprint still offers unlimited data on smartphones, and Clearwire offers all you can eat plans (though it throttles). The idea here is if operators can deploy more efficient networks over more spectrum, than the cost of data will go down.

      • Kyle Traxler

        I have used Clear for almost 1 year in Cleveland (before moving out of their area), and NEVER, NEVER had any problems with caps or throttling. That is only in select areas. I used to pull over 22gigs a month on my Clear modem and still was running full through. I had DirecTV connected to it and streamed NetFlix and other streaming sites with no problems.

  3. Raymond Moncada

    Did anyone mentioned “FreedomPop”. Clearwire has taken one too many beating from bigger and badder wireless player. The funny things is that Clearwire has not defaulted. If TD-LTE is all it claims to be, clearwire will be the over arching structure providing relieve to the bigger and badder wireless player. I thinkg NTT Docomo in Japan is using similar model than the one clearwire is trying to establish.


    Why not use this to increase capacity & ease “congestion” wireless providers are whining about & forgo caps. I’ll tell you why not, it’s all about greed, greed, greed, tethering fees? to do something the phone was designed to easily do, overages for going over allotted Data / gigs per month = ridiculous. Charging for buckets of minutes? unnecessary as we’ve all witnessed with VoIP technologies, they won’t even allow voip apps on wireless networks because it’ll ruin their bottom line, instead of brainstorming & coming up with a reasonable flat fee.

  5. Robert G. Schaffrath

    “Clearwire may not have the most ideal spectrum in the world for a nationwide launch – its higher frequency 2.5 GHz airwaves don’t propagate as far as the low-frequency licenses everyone else owns – but it is certainly blessed with a lot of it.”

    Actually this could be a good thing. With a shorter range, there is a need for more sites and less wide area interference. As long as the backhaul to each site is good, the performance on 2.5GHz could be better than at 700MHz or 850MHz were less towers are used and the coverage area is wider.

  6. William Diaz ✔

    Its almost pointless to use the words “Speed, Clearwire, Timeline” simply because Clearwire doesnt have the time to wait until technology comes out to give them more speed, lets not even mention that they are only going to deploy this network on a much smaller scale than their current WiMAX is, ie, only in high traffic areas that WiMAX had. Which is to say, maybe only one or two cells that had actual demand, not to mention that there are many other cells that are REQUESTING high demand access but not getting it since WiMAX and Clear set up the network so poorly.

    • Kyle Traxler

      Clear has been alive this long and will keep going. They have more MVNOs signing up than it counts; including JUNO/United Internet now is stilling the service under the NetZero name. Everyone said a LONG time ago they would die; and they’re still around, Dial-up, DSL and now WiMax 4g. Best Buy is also one of Clear’s MVNOs. Sprint as well- and we all know Sprint will need Clear in the end; it has proven that time and time again. Sprint doesn’t have the resources it thinks to make their network happen. Hell, Sprint relies on its prepaid brands to keep its network afloat with the money and has even now announced that those prepaid brands will be using Wimax instead of using LTE. Talk about Sprint giving those customers the shaft.

  7. The speed talk, as I see reported, is not too relevant to the user. Peak rates occur 1% of the time, or so. What the user is interested in is the experience on the network, which is largely dependent on average data throughput, and that in turn is dependent on deployment, cell loading, etc. A good 3G network is going to perform better than a poorly-deployed 4G network.

  8. Christopher Rucinski

    I want the government to throw some money their way to get the other “competition” to actually start competing.