A Tale of Two WiMax Stories

It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but the PR folks at Clearwire must be scratching their heads in wonder at how a big newspaper like the Chicago Tribune could do such a poor job of reporting on the WiMax service that is coming to that city soon.

In a story published Jan. 3 that is getting wide recognition across the Web — multiple diggs, prominence on TechMeme and callouts from blogs like GigaOM — the Tribune gets a few things right but is guilty of some serious errors of omission in its report about WiMax services coming soon from Clearwire. The main problem seems to stem from the reporter’s using a Sprint exec as the main source for the story, and confusing Sprint’s plan to resell Clearwire services with the actual Clear WiMax service from Clearwire proper.

Before we dissect the Trib story a bit, we did want to point to a much better and more thorough look at Clearwire from Mike Rogoway at The Oregonian in Portland. Rogoway, who writes the Silicon Forest blog, has not only used Clearwire’s nascent services himself but did a fairly thorough job of giving readers some business background on the company and some of the challenges it faces in 2009.

While Rogoway’s extended feature takes the time to explore the complexity of WiMax and the Clearwire business case, the Trib story unfortunately cuts too many corners and confuses the coming Sprint 3G/4G offering with the Clear WiMax service, and introduces additional confusion by quoting fixed-WiMax provider Towerstream CEO Jeff Thompson without really explaining the significant differences between his company’s business and Clearwire’s.

The biggest error, one that will probably live on as it gets repeated via links and Diggs, is the assertion that the Clearwire service will cost $80 a month, and not be available until late in 2009. Though Clearwire hasn’t yet announced when it will launch services in Chicago, the guess here is that it will happen much sooner than the Trib reports, especially since Clearwire has started buying Web ads touting the service, ironically on the Trib’s own site. If prices in Chicago are like anything Clearwire offers in Baltimore and Portland, there will be a range of pricing options, from $10 day passes to monthly plans for far less than $80.

No sign from the Tribune yet on correcting that mistake.

When we talked to Sprint exec Todd Rowley about the forthcoming 3G/4G hybrid device, he said that Sprint’s offering will likely trail the launch of Clearwire services since the company needs to set things up on the back end (billing and roaming infrastructure, for example) to make sure it works with both services. In Portland, for example, the Clearwire network is already working and will have an “official” launch this Tuesday. Sprint’s card, Rowley said, won’t work there until later in the first quarter, giving you an idea of the delay between the availability of the two services.

The Sprint 3G/4G service is currently priced at $80 a month, so perhaps that is where the Trib reporter got that figure. By doing a little bit of research, the Portland reporter wasn’t as confused and offered his readers a much better picture.

The Trib reporter, meanwhile, said that the Clearwire Portland service is “expected to be announced next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas,” which will be news to all of us at the Clearwire launch in Portland on Tuesday. It’s just inexcusable that something so easily checked from so many different sources gets published incorrectly with the endorsement of a big name like the Chicago Tribune.

Just goes to show that maybe more people need to take the time to learn about WiMax! But then, you knew we would say that.

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