Clearwire Finally Goes Simple: But is $50 a Month Too Little, Too Late?

October 31, 2011

It took them a long time to get there but Clearwire finally has the pricing strategy I thought the company should have gone with out of the gate: A simple, one-price plan for mobile or home service, $50 a month, with no long-term contract necessary. It’s easy to understand and easy to purchase (especially with devices priced as low as $39.99) but — is it too late to matter?

When the nascent national wireless broadband service from Clearwire first became available back in January of 2009, the company had a pamphlet with so many different pricing options (dual plans, mobile + home plans, etc.) that it was hard to write simply just how much the new service would cost. And then Clearwire compounded that marketing problem by changing plans and pricing as it rolled out new markets — all under some claim of “finding out what works.”

What works — what always works — is easy and cheap. I always thought Clearwire should have started out selling a $25 per month plan just to see how many people it could sign up. That might sound business-stupid but how is it any worse than the grand plans of former CEO Bill Morrow, which crashed and burned? Inside Clearwire there were reportedly some renegades who wanted to try out a low-cost no-contract pricing scheme but by the time the Rover puck concept finally got greenlighted it didn’t have a passionate executive backing it so it predictably floundered.

Even as late as a year ago January I still thought a simple two-tier plan from Clearwire made sense, especially to get ahead of the tiered-data plans that were coming from Verizon and AT&T. But nobody listened then and instead we got grand plans for Clearwire smartphones and Clearwire Kindles, which resulted in the great Clearwire-Sprint executive collision, which hasn’t worked out well for either company.

Now you have a Clearwire without any of the leadership that brought the ISP to life — former CEO Ben Wolff, who for many Clearwire originals remained the soul of the firm, resigned from the board last week — and with a withered operational budget that leaves Clearwire no choice really but to strip down its offerings to a simple $50 a month plan, no contract, no download limits. My bet is that a bunch of data-hungry types will snap up these deals and run their laptops and iPads off a Clearwire pocketspot for the next few years, loving the last real unlimited wireless data contract around. It’s just a shame this strategy wasn’t tried sooner, when the company had some marketing muscle to put behind it.

Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow on WiMAX vs. LTE

September 21, 2009

Why speculate? Listen to Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow as he explains how Clearwire is solidly set on using WiMAX right now — and might use LTE in the future, a few years down the road, if it becomes popular:

The Sidecut Interview: Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow

September 20, 2009

Editor’s note: Here is an edited transcript of an exclusive Q&A with Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow that Sidecut Reports conducted just after Morrow’s keynote speech at 4G World in Chicago Sept. 16. Much more from Clearwire and 4G World as the week unfolds!

Sidecut Reports: Does Wall Street understand what Clearwire is doing? The unclear stories this week from New York about the idea that you might “drop” WiMAX in favor of LTE makes it seem like there is still some confusion on their end.

Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow: I think they understand. When I came in here [as CEO] six months ago there seemed to be a question about what would happen if they [large investors] invested in Clearwire and WiMAX, and it didn’t succeed. Now, with more markets launched, they’re getting some good insights and are diving further in, and seeing things like the fact that our costs [of deployment] are lower.

Sidecut Reports: Talk about your pricing and strategic message — is it now centered around mobility, around value, or around speed?

Morrow: I think you have to have all of the above. You have to get value to the point where it raises the eyebrows of people. We want to have the simplest pricing, the best pricing. Over time you include value-added services, so the value of the entire proposition increases.

Sidecut Reports:
But how do you get that message out?

Morrow: Part of it is by making sure you build the right reputation and brand image. Mike Seivert, our chief commercial officer, is in lockstep with me on this — we want to create a very different fundamental experience for the customer. Even the simple act of getting a bill — I was at [California energy utility] PG&E, and I know from having bills that were too complex or hard to figure out, the customer would almost say “I don’t trust you!”

What I really want to see is us get the word out, to get customers on the network and then have them talk about it to other customers. The message carries so much further when it’s in the customer’s own voice.

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