Carrier Evolution

Clearwire estimates it will spend $600 million to build its new Long Term Evolution network, spending about a halt to two thirds of that amount in 2012, the balance in 2013. What that might mean is that 5,000 LTE cell sites will be active by June of 2013, with a total of 8,000 sites relatively shortly thereafter.

The Clearwire WiMAX network, by way of comparison, supports 16,000 sites. Construction of the LTE network is scheduled to begin by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

The first 5,000 sites have been picked because they represent the sites with the heaviest current data demand, the company says. That effort might have important business ramifications for Clearwire, which finally, after trying to juggle its wholesale provider and retail provider roles, has chosen to focus first and foremost on its wholesale role.

In fact, that choice makes Clearwire the only “pure play” national provider of wholesale mobile capacity and services, with the likely demise of LightSquared.

LightSquared had signed more than 30 customers to wholesale capacity agreements, and those potential customers now logically will be looking for other partners, if the LightSquared network does not launch, as would now seem to be the case.

FreedomPop, for example, had been one of those potential customers but already has said it will sign with Clearwire as a capacity provider as it races to launch service in the summer of 2012.

Whether that emerges as a trend remains to be seen, but Clearwire now stands as the only national provider focused on wholesale services for retail mobile service providers, and seems closest to building a wholesale LTE network that could be operational in 2012.

Dish Network is petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to build its own national LTE network, but availability obviously remains some years off in the future, and Dish has been talking about selling its own retail service, not wholesale.

The point is that there would appear to be as many as 30 would-be mobile service providers now looking for wholesale carriage agreements, and the LTE angle is likely to emerge as an important feature and requirement for many of those would-be customers.