Mainland firm readies new fast Internet access option
Clearwire will begin offering service in Honolulu this month
Marking a new option for local residents seeking high-speed Internet services, a fast-growing service provider founded by one of the cellular phone industry's pioneers plans to begin service in Honolulu later this month.
Clearwire Corp., a broadband provider founded in 2003 by Craig McCaw, will officially begin service Aug. 31, when it unveils its new product at the 2006 Home Entertainment & Technology Expo, a consumer electronics show.
Clearwire's entry into the Honolulu market will mark a new, deep-pocketed competitor fighting for market share against Hawaiian Telcom, which offers high-speed DSL service, and Oceanic Time Warner Cable, which provides broadband cable service.
Clearwire executives declined to say precisely how much the service will cost, but Kevin Inn, Clearwire's general manager in Hawaii, said the price is "right in there with DSL and cable."
"We're not the cheapest and not the most expensive," he said.
Nonetheless, Inn said, subscribers will not be required to have their homes wired with a television cable or phone line to obtain the service, which subscribers must do to receive cable or DSL service. And that could mean lower overall costs for Clearwire subscribers who don't already have a phone or cable line at home.
Clearwire's service differs fundamentally from cable and DSL because it transmits signals via a wireless network much like a cellular network, instead of over cables or phone lines. To link to the network, customers use a device about the size of a paperback book that plugs into a standard electrical outlet and connects to a computer by an ethernet cable.
"Sometimes I tell people it takes longer to unpack the thing from the box than it does to set it up," Inn said.
One advantage of this system, Inn said, is that it can be used anywhere within Clearwire's coverage area, which he said encompasses "a big footprint on this island." In places where an electrical outlet isn't available, users can use adapters to plug into automobile cigarette lighters.
That makes the system particularly useful for people whose occupations keep them outside or moving on the road.
"Realtors totally get it," Inn said.
Founded just three years ago, Clearwire now operates in 27 metro areas in the United States, including Maui. And it has attracted big money from venture investors. Last month, Clearwire announced it had raised an equity round of $900 million, including $600 million from Intel Corp.'s venture capital arm, to invest in next-generation WiMAX wireless systems.
Sean McLaughlin, a technology analyst with the advocacy group Hawaii Consumers, said the new service is clearly good for consumers. But he cautioned that people should read the fine print to understand Clearwire's product, particularly whether it is fast enough to serve their needs.
"In general we like more competition in the market for fast Internet connections," he said. "The tricky thing for consumers is that the term 'broadband' is used a lot, but the term isn't well-defined."
According to its Web site, Clearwire's services move data at a rate of about 1.5 megabits per second, which McLaughlin said is comparable to most DSL systems but potentially slower than cable. But McLaughlin said Clearwire's portability makes it unique.
"The fact that it's transportable -- it's apples and oranges," he said. "What's the value of being mobile? That could be a very high value to someone."