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Originally published September 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 28, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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WiMax World 2007 | Speech shows Clearwire has been very busy

At WiMax World this week, Clearwire had a minimal presence. It didn't have a booth or splashy banners hung from the ceiling. It didn't host a...

Seattle Times technology reporter

CHICAGO — At WiMax World this week, Clearwire had a minimal presence. It didn't have a booth or splashy banners hung from the ceiling. It didn't host a cruise on the Chicago River to show off its service.

But the conference did pause Thursday to hear a progress report from the Kirkland-based company.

On the final day of the two-day show, Clearwire Chief Strategy Officer Scott Richardson gave an update on how its business is doing and where he sees the industry headed.

Clearwire, founded by wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw, has been in business four years and serves more than 40 markets in the U.S. and a handful of cities in Europe.

The company offers a precursor to WiMax technology. Users receive a modem — about the size of a hardback book — that can be used anywhere in a service territory, though not on the go, such as in a moving vehicle.

Clearwire's progress differs from the rest of the industry, which is waiting to build networks based on true mobile WiMax technology, expected to be available early next year.

"The difference with Clearwire and other folks in the room is that while others are planning, we are in service today," Richardson said.

In his speech, Richardson offered a rare glimpse into operations of a company that usually prefers to stay out of the spotlight and say little.

Here are a few points worth noting, gathered from his presentation and a one-on-one interview.

• Clearwire has about 300,000 subscribers. In August, 41 percent of its customers migrated from cable Internet access and 29 percent from DSL.

The combined total is about 10 percent more than in the first quarter, when 59 percent of customers moved from DSL or cable.

Numbers like those debunk the belief that Clearwire subscribers are moving up from dial-up Internet services, Richardson said.

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• Clearwire is starting slowly to roll out mobile WiMax — which can be used on the go — into new markets, including Portland.

For markets with the older technology, it has two routes to take. It could offer new modems containing chips that allow customers to use both the old and new networks without knowing it.

The other idea is to launch a second network in the same city, and run both as people make the transition.

• Deployment of true mobile WiMax is going well in Portland, Richardson said. In April, Clearwire completed the first phase, involving 15 square miles. It's now focused on a beta network covering 145 square miles.

A short video showed engineers in Portland who said the service was seeing speeds of 4 megabits per second downstream — receiving information — and 1 Mbps for uploads.

• This year's WiMax World focused a lot on mobile devices and gadgets to run on the networks. Richardson said Clearwire anticipates rolling out PC cards that can fit into laptops as early as this year. It has started testing them in some cities, including Seattle.

In 2008, it expects to see laptops with embedded chipsets, as well as WiMax-enabled handsets.

• Richardson raised two questions during his presentation: What applications will be popular and how will operators make money?

Internet access is the WiMax-enabled application people will want most, he said. "The last 10 years have been outstanding," he said. "Your experience has evolved from dial-up to broadband.... Most of the new traffic will come from mobile connectivity."

Richardson said 80 percent of time spent on the Internet is with a wired computer and 20 percent on a mobile device, but he foresees that eventually flip-flopping.

As for a WiMax business model, he said that will likely evolve as networks become available. "I believe the future is driven by the types of things you do at home today and want to do on the go, but we have to provide the connectivity to enable the business model."

• Asked what a practical WiMax experience will look like, he compared it with his SanDisk Sansa MP3 player.

Richardson said the music player has Wi-Fi and a special partnership with Yahoo. He can launch Internet radio or even scan his photo collection stored on Flickr. "But if you leave Wi-Fi, I'm no longer connected," he said.

• Richardson said a lot of the complexity in the business will be in the back end of Clearwire's network, where it handles billing. As a result, it bought IntraISP, of St. Louis, which will be a subsidiary and be able to sell billing solutions to other companies.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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