Quite a few years ago I had some friends who got married but had family and friends that lived all over the country. To accommodate as many people as possible they decided to have at least four separate wedding receptions. By the time the third one rolled around,, some of the glow of celebration had worn off.
The same might be said for what will now be called Clear, nee XOHM, nee simply Sprint’s 4G WiMAX network. With all the investments, trials, JV rumblings and confirmations, a mega-7-way partnership and conquered regulatory hurdles, it feels like this is at least the fifth coming-out party for the first 4G network in the US.
By naming its service brand Clear — not to be confused with another company promoting expedience — the new Clearwire is adopting a brand that is simpler and more tangible as opposed to the abstract, Internet-evoking XOHM brand that barely had a chance to be promoted in the market. Well, at least it’s far less of a rebranding challenge than AT&T faced with Cingular.
The most interesting comment at this relaunch, though, came from Clearwire CEO Ben Wolf who noted that the WiMAX provider is keeping its eye open toward LTE. This is in many ways consistent with what Sprint executives have said in the past playing down any standards war between WiMAX and LTE. The main difference, they have offered, is a time-to-market advantage of several years. And that’s what makes all the WiMAX milestones seem painful. The new Clearwire and its parents have had to do a tremendous amount of heavy lifting whereas previous jumps to new generations of cellular technology have generally seemed more evolutionary since the adoption of PCS (AT&T Wireless’s TDMA transition notwithstanding).
But with mobile broadband still in its early days, what’s less clear is how Clear can get to a consumer price point. XOHM’s early adopter lifetime offer of $50/month may offer better price/performance than 3G, but it’s not going to create explosive growth, at least not unless Clear can make the challenging case that it should displace a home broadband connection.