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December 6, 2006

Clearwire will roll out Wi-Fi in Grand Rapids

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:31 PM

The city of Grand Rapids, Mich. selected Clearwire on Tuesday to build a privately owned wireless broadband network for mobile, portable and nomadic data service in a 45-square mile area.

The summary agreement suggests Grand Rapids got a pretty sweet deal.

Kirkland-based Clearwire will provide discounted service of $9.95 a month to up to 5 percent of the households in Grand Rapids for qualifying low-income citizens, and Clearwire will offer free Wi-Fi hot spots throughout the city for visitors and occasional users. It will even reimburse the city the $100,000 it spent on the due diligence process.

The summary also includes one piece of very interesting information. It says Clearwire will be building the first large-scale, municipal mobile WiMax deployment in the country in Grand Rapids.

That's entirely possible. Up until now, Clearwire has been building out pre-WiMax networks, which are not mobile, but are considered nomadic instead. Typically, people cannot move while using the service.

The summary goes on to stipulate that Clearwire will enable public safety vehicles to use the service while traveling up to 70 miles per hour. (Watch out! You thought driving while using a BlackBerry was dangerous.)

I wonder about the claim that it will be the first, however. Supposedly, the first true mobile WiMax deployment was supposed to take place in Portland, where Clearwire and Intel could keep a close eye on things. That announcement was made at WiMax World in Boston this fall. Perhaps it is the difference between a commercial and trial market?

Clearwire, which unsuccessfully submitted a proposal to work on a broadband network in Seattle, is also working with the city of Fairfax, Va.

Ben Wolff, Clearwire's co-CEO, told me at WiMax World that his company is definitely interested in working with municipalities.

He explained that it made sense for there to be two wireless broadband networks in one city and how Clearwire could still attract customers when Wi-Fi might be cheaper, if not free. He said Wi-Fi is good for outdoor coverage and basic service, but WiMax is preferred when looking for indoor coverage, faster speeds and a certain level of quality.

"There's a place for muni-Wi-Fi and Clearwire in the world. They are complementary," Wolff said.

UPDATE: Despite quite an elaborate presentation at WiMax World, where a live video stream showed people installing a mobile WiMax tower in Portland, Clearwire talked down the presentation today. It said Intel's announcement, made at WiMax World, was that it was building "one of North America's first mobile WiMAX trials."

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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