Big Clearwire News: Huge Subscriber Adds, LTE Test Plans

We’ll break down and unpack the news as we get more info during the afternoon, but the big news from Clearwire today is on two fronts: One, a huge surge in new subscriber adds that had the company adding another million projected subscribers to its yearly predictions; and two, announcement of technical trials of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, the same technology that big cellular providers like Verizon and AT&T will use for their forthcoming 4G services.

On the new subscriber side of things, as we predicted Clearwire benefited from a huge surge of network adds from its wholesale partners, most likely Sprint Nextel which had sellout success with its HTC EVO 4G WiMAX smartphone launch in June. For the quarter, Clearwire added 722,000 net new subscribers, with 595,000 of those coming via wholesale channels and another 127,000 added via Clearwire’s own retail sales efforts.

Clearwire now claims 1.7 million subscribers on its network, 752,000 of which are wholesale customers — meaning that by the end of the year, the company may have more wholesale customers than retail. The interesting twist to the wholesale number from Q2 is that more than half (52 percent) of the new 4G customers live in markets where Clearwire’s services aren’t even yet available — meaning that people are either buying 4G products like the EVO simply because they like the device, or they are buying hybrid 3G/4G devices and using them for travel to WiMAX markets. Back in February, Clearwire had seemed a bit optimistic when it predicted it would have 2 million subscribers by the end of the year. Wednesday, Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow said the company now expects to have nearly 3 million network subscribers by year end.

On the LTE side, Clearwire’s tiptoe into the LTE waters became a full-scale immersion Wednesday, when the company said it would conduct multiple technology tests with a partner list that includes Huawei, Samsung and chip maker Beceem. While Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow said the company remains “committed to WiMAX” for its current network buildout plan, expect most followers to take Morrow’s claim that Clearwire could conceivably launch LTE services with “real-world download speeds of between 20 Mbps and 70 Mbps” and match that up against the expected 5 Mbps-12 Mbps speeds forthcoming from Verizon’s LTE services later this year.

We will break down each and every facet of all the news today — buried inside the list of announcements was another wholesale contract with small-business service provider Cbeyond, and Morrow’s contention that Clearwire might look into selling some of its licensed spectrum to help fund the company’s ongoing expansion plans.

While we don’t even have time to dig into Clearwire’s financial numbers — our 30,000-foot view says that revenues and ARPU don’t mean so much right now since the company is so early in its deployments and strategic agreements — it seems clear from the rapidly growing subscriber adds that Clearwire is making the kind of hay it needed to, if it wants to have any chance of competing directly with the larger cellular providers when they ramp up their massive marketing and infrastructure spending machinery.

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