The biggest champion of WiMAX in North America, Clearwire, announced yesterday that they want to migrate away from WiMAX to LTE. The announcement was expected, but it does bring the future of WiMAX into question.

Clearwire says they want to migrate to LTE TDD, a more data centric version of LTE. The other LTE flavor, FDD, is slightly less efficient with data transmission. Clearwire doesn’t have a clear roadmap yet and admit they will need to raise more money to accomplish it. They’re saying $600 million, but it’s probably at least double that amount. Clearwire believes they can push the limit of LTE with the TDD version, claiming they’ve seen 120 Mbps throughput in LTE TDD trials. Of course they key word here is ‘trials.’

“Clearwire plans to raise the bar again for mobile broadband service in the United States,” said John Stanton, Clearwire’s Chairman and interim CEO in a press release. “Our leadership in launching 4G services forced a major change in the competitive mobile data landscape. Now, we plan to bring our considerable spectrum portfolio to bear to deliver an LTE network capable of meeting the future demands of the market.”

So what happens to WiMAX now? The loss of a major WiMAX service provider doesn’t bode well for the overall ecosystem. In some ways it’s hard to imagine WiMAX has come to this. Back in its prime, it had significant players on board including Intel, Samsung, Sprint, and Comcast, among others. Truth be told, its not going anywhere anytime soon. There are millions of WiMAX subscribers in the U.S. alone, which Clearwire and Sprint won’t want to abandon.

By its own admission, Clearwire has a lot of work to do to before it can actually make the leap – a process that will probably be measured in years, not months. In the mean time, WiMAX will work just fine. But its long term future is very much in doubt.


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