Clearwire completes 2009 WiMax footprint

With a month to spare, Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) closed out its 2009 WiMax rollout, announcing the commercial launch of its final two markets planned for the year: Seattle and Honolulu. Clearwire has now fulfilled its promise of covering 30 million people with the 4G mobile broadband network by year end. It now has all of December to pave the way for an even larger rollout in 2010 that will see its footprint expand by a factor of four and bring some of the largest metro areas in the US under its umbrella.

Clearwire’s network is still far from nationwide, but it has chosen to focus on several regions, building out an extensive network in Texas that covers four of the state’s five largest cities as well as several smaller communities it previously served with its NextNet fixed-wireless service. In the Northwest it has blanketed the Puget Sound region surrounding Seattle and launched services further down the I-5 cooridoor in Portland, Eugene and Salem, Ore. In North Carolina, it has live networks in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh as well as the surrounding cities. Apart from those clusters, Clearwire is also serving several isolated but very large markets, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Las Vegas and Philadelphia. It’s Hawaii launch includes not just the main city of Honolulu but the population centers on the island of Maui.

As Clearwire has activated each market its service provider investors have begun offering their own services as mobile virtual network operators. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMSCA) and Time Warner (NYSE:TWC) have begun bundling WiMax into their cable packages in the Clearwire cities they have franchises, while Sprint (NYSE:S) has closely followed Clearwire’s nationwide launch schedule, offering hybrid 3G/4G mobile broadband services wherever the network is available.

Next year, Clearwire’s plans become even more aggressive, focusing primarily on major metro markets in an effort to bring its coverage up to 120 million pops. Boston, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC, are all on its 2010 road map. But given that Clearwire plans to bring more than 50 markets online that year, its launch plans will likely include many smaller and mid-sized cities. Clearwire will also face its first 4G competition in 2010. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) plans to launch its long-term evolution (LTE) network in the latter half of the year, but it will move aggressively. It plans a 30 market, 100-million-pop footprint covering the largest cities in the US, bringing it almost even with Clearwire by year end.

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