Clearwire: WiMAX in NYC on Nov. 1, LA Dec. 1, SF by Dec. 31

Followers of all things 4G recently have seen, experienced or heard tell of WiMAX services showing up in the promised “big three” cities of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — and now the release dates are official, with the Clearwire press release crossing the wires early Monday announcing that both Clearwire and Sprint will be offering 4G services live in the Big Apple on Nov. 1, in LA on Dec. 1, and in San Francisco sometime before the calendar reads 2011.

For some instant analysis of the import of these market launches, we take you back to our July Clearwire Business Report (which for $9.95 is a still-valuable and value-priced package of info on the nation’s nascent WiMAX network launch). Here’s a small sampling of our opinion then, which we still say matters now:

The final piece of the puzzle are the big markets Clearwire has said it will launch in the remainder of the year — namely New York City, the greater San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley region, and Los Angeles. When those three markets come online, Clearwire will be front and center in the media and tech hubs of the country, assuring lots more attention — which can either help or harm the company’s attempted entry to the big-time of the wireless service provider marketplace.

While Clearwire’s deployments in multiple geographically diverse markets seems to suggest that the company has its technical network deployment act together, the added scrutiny that will come with on-the-ground presence in both New York and San Francisco will test the company’s marketing and sales operations as never before. Sprint and its media-savvy CEO Dan Hesse will be able to shoulder its share of rollout duties, with a big enough advertising budget to counter at least some of the expected media spend by Verizon. But with lots more prominent geeks and members of the financial and media elite testing, evaluating and offering opinions on the service, it remains to be seen how well Clearwire can handle the inevitable bumps in the road that come with any such mass-market undertaking.

It’s the ultimate risk/reward scenario for Clearwire, one that could see the company reap huge gains in not just subscriber numbers but in perception as pundits will be sure to pronounce the network a “truly national one” when they can safely roam on the same service between SFO and JFK. Launching New York, San Francisco and LA before Verizon gets its own 4G network off the ground will also let Clearwire eliminate any competitive brushstrokes that try to paint the WiMAX network as one that is incomplete, or not available in the places that matter most. For those reasons, Clearwire simply cannot let the big market launches slip, and will score more points the sooner the services go live. Especially with the new WiMAX smartphones in the Sprint stable, which appear to be able to give even the vaunted iPhone empire a run for its money.

Sidecut Reports, along with many other members of the wireless industry, will be at the 4G World show in Chicago this week to hear Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow, among other industry leaders, tell us how the future of 4G is going to roll out. With its “Big 3″ markets now slated for delivery, the 4G showdown between the Clearwire/Sprint WiMAX axis and the Verizon LTE launch seems set. The Super Bowl of 4G? Sounds like it to me.

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