Limitations to Clearwire's TDD-LTE Wholesale Model December 14, 2012 10:23

When Clearwire first offered wholesale access to its spectrum, it was using the WiMax technology.  It had built this technology in the 2.5GHz band and it was covering up to 80 markets by the end of 2010.  At this time Clearwire provided meaningful WiMax coverage in each of their markets for Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner, and Best Buy to provide their customers 4G Only WiMax devices.  Essentially, Clearwire's WiMax network had broad enough coverage that these operators could selectively offer their customers service in the markets that Clearwire offered WiMax service.

As Clearwire has embarked on the TDD-LTE strategy, their wholesale model has gotten a bit more complex.  First, they continue to sign up relatively small partners for their WiMax wholesale offering:  Simplexity, Freedom Pop, Best Buy, CBeyond, Mitel, NetZero, Locus, and Kajeet.  They have Sprint already signed for Wholesale Access to the forthcoming TDD-LTE network and added Leap to the WiMax partner list early in 2012.

Leap demonstrates the change of direction for wholesale agreements for the TDD-LTE network.  For their TDD-LTE roaming strategy, a roaming partner would need a "thin" LTE network providing coverage in their markets.  They would then roam over to the Clearwire TDD-LTE "hot spots" only for capacity.  Sprint's 5x5MHz FDD-LTE deployment would qualify as a "thin" LTE deployment.  This implicit requirement for a "thin" coverage network, eliminates non-carriers from the TDD-LTE wholesale process since it would be difficult to sell "spots" of coverage across Los Angeles if you didn't have service already over the area.

In addition, the quantity of sites in the Clearwire LTE plan started at 8,000 of their 16,000 sites, was reduced to 5,000 sites and recently has arrived at 2,000 sites.  This has increased the challenge of finding wholesale partners with this very limited coverage.