Clearwire CTO urges infrastructure industry to focus on capacity

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.--A senior Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) executive said the wireless infrastructure community needs to fundamentally shift its resources and focus from coverage to capacity to meet the demand for mobile data.

Speaking at the PCIA 2010 Wireless Infrastructure Show here, Clearwire CTO John SawSpeaking at the PCIA 2010 Wireless Infrastructure Show here, Clearwire CTO John Saw said the company--which he said is still on track to cover 120 million POPs with mobile WiMAX by year-end--expects the number of mobile data users to eclipse fixed-line Internet users in five years. If this projection comes true, he said, "We need to ask ourselves as an industry, 'Are we building the mobile Internet that can handle this tidal wave of the devices? Is it fast enough, is it big enough?'"

Saw said the industry needs to re-orient itself to the reality of 4G networks, reiterating that Clearwire subscribers consume 7 GB of data per month. To enable that mobile broadband experience, Saw said, the industry needs several things. First, he said carriers need channels of 10 MHz, 20 MHz or even 40 MHz. Backhaul capacity also needs to be massively upgraded, he said, to between 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps per cell site. And finally, carriers need access to large blocks of contiguous spectrum, he said.

Not surprisingly, Saw used his moment in the spotlight to trumpet Clearwire's position. He said the company uses power-efficient base stations that cut down on its utility costs by 90 percent, and that the company runs 90 percent of its network on microwave backhaul and structures its network in a lattice pattern so that every cell site has two or three paths back to a data center.

All of this enables the company to build out its network remarkably fast, Saw said. He said Clearwire turns on a new cell site in New York every 90 minutes. "That is a rate of building cell site towers that has never been done before," he said. (Representatives from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) have often made the claim that because Clearwire operates in 2.5 GHz spectrum instead of the 700 MHz spectrum Verizon using for its LTE network, Clearwire needs to build out more cell sites.)

In a world where capacity is king, Saw said, infrastructure providers have enormous opportunities. Cell sites will need to be built closer together. Towers will still be important, he said, but will have to be supported by a ubiquitous under-layer--what Saw called a "capacity-injection layer"--of architecture including microcells, picocells and Distributed Antenna System nodes. Saw also suggested more tower companies provide backhaul as a common service as a way to entice carriers into using their infrastructure. 

Saw said Clearwire already is using this kind of network architecture methodoloy in New York. He said the company is using a three-tiered system of deployment: macrocells, mainly on rooftops; microcells, picocells and DAS systems on utility poles as a second layer; and antennas on the lower portions of buildings that will shoot signals straight up.    

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