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Monday, April 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Clearwire expands into Internet phone service

Seattle Times technology reporter

Clearwire, the Kirkland company providing wireless broadband Internet access, plans to announce today that it is offering telephone service, furthering its ability to compete against traditional phone and cable companies.

The service, available first in Stockton, Calif., uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), meaning the connection uses the Internet, not copper wire. Cable companies have started to offer the service to compete with phone companies; standalone providers such as Vonage have also started to offer it.

Data analyst eMarketer estimates that by 2010 there will be 32.6 million U.S. VoIP subscribers, nearly 40 percent of all broadband households. In 2005, the research group said 5.2 million households or 12.3 percent were subscribers.

Because VoIP uses the Internet, few long-distance fees are involved, making it generally a cheaper service. Clearwire will offer VoIP for $30 a month and require users to buy a $50 adapter, which is $15 with a discount.

More broadly, Clearwire is rolling out an early version of WiMax, which delivers broadband Internet access wirelessly from a cellphone tower.

The service has launched in 27 areas, and in several markets internationally through its equipment subsidiary NextNet Wireless. Clearwire is led by Craig McCaw, who founded McCaw Cellular Communications, which later became AT&T Wireless and today is part of Cingular Wireless.

Clearwire has raised about $1.1 billion and has partnerships with Intel and Bell Canada, which are also investors.

The new service, Clearwire Internet Phone Service, was developed through Bell Canada.

"We've taken the time to develop a system that will provide our customers with the best experience possible," said Clearwire Vice Chairman Rob Mechaley. "Because we own all network elements — most importantly the wireless link — we can better manage the quality our customers encounter when making calls."

The service includes a local phone number, 911 service, unlimited local and long-distance calling in the U.S. and Canada, call forwarding and blocking, caller ID, voice mail and three-way calling.

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To use it, the customer plugs a telephone adapter into an outlet and then into the customer's computer.

The existing phone can be used. Once set up, the service can work without a computer.

Tricia Duryee: tduryee@seattletimes.com or 206-464-3283.

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