Best Buy, Intel, Clearwire Begin Big WiMAX Promotion

While it got lost in the noise generated by the HTC EVO 4G introduction, way back at CTIA Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow hinted about a forthcoming big promotional deal between nascent national WiMAX provider Clearwire, its big partner Intel, and retailer Best Buy. While details of the promotion haven’t yet been released, the plan is already apparently in motion as witnessed by the appearance of Intel/Clearwire backed promotions for discounted WiMAX-enabled gear for purchase at Best Buy outlets.

(Best Buy ads touting discounted prices for WiMAX-enabled netbooks and laptops)

It looks like the search engine optimization is working — the Best Buy ads in the photo above appear clustered around a story about Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G WiMAX smartphone, which went on sale June 4 and recorded boffo numbers according to numerous accounts. But the discounts tell another tale altogether, one that is finally seeing some subsidization coming to the Clearwire WiMAX marketplace. While Clearwire has already been offering pricing discounts on netbooks through its own retail channels, the Intel/Best Buy collaboration is a bit of a sea change for a company that once prided itself on having a no-discount, no-subsidy approach to devices that would use its network.

(Best Buy ordering page for discounted WiMAX gear)

Of course, the HTC EVO 4G is probably the clubhouse leader in subsidized WiMAX gear, since it apparently has sold strongly in all markets where it was available, even with the specter of Apple’s iPhone 4 looming large with its formal introduction today. While we probably won’t learn the hard numbers on EVO 4G sales until Q2 figures are reported sometime in August, the timing of the big WiMAX promotion and some more recent market launches, like Cleveland, Kansas City and Washington D.C. should go a long way toward helping Clearwire reach its year-end goal of more than 2 million subscribers.

Our thoroughly un-scientific research has showed the WiMAX tax dropping in other retail locations as well — at the Lenovo online store the option to add WiMAX connectivity to your laptop has dropped from a $55 option to a $35 option over the last month. We still think that surcharge is a bit steep, but every decline is another buck closer to winning a potential customer. And with Clearwire aggressively taking on AT&T with a public company statement about unlimited network plans vs. Ma Bell’s new pay-per-bit schemes, it’s obvious that WiMAX backers are pushing a lot of chips toward the center of the table this summer in a bid to get ahead in the 4G race.

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