FCC to consider proposal that could boost Clearwire network speeds

The FCC during its June 9 open meeting will consider a proposal that would allow operators in the 2.5 GHz band to make use of wider channel bandwidths. If the proposal is approved by the commission, it could allow WiMAX operator Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) to expand from its recommended 5.5 MHz channel bandwidths to 20 MHz channel bandwidths or more, thus allowing the carrier to offer significantly faster upload and download speeds.

To be clear, a number of pieces must fall into place before Clearwire can actually widen its channels and boost its network speeds. First, the FCC must issue a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the topic and solicit comments from the industry. If the agency does approve the proposal, then network equipment vendors will have to build suitable equipment for wider spectrum channels--and Clearwire must deploy that equipment.

Nonetheless, "the rule change would be beneficial to companies like Clearwire who may adopt wider channelization plans in the future," noted Clearwire spokesman Mike DiGioia.

"Expanding the channels allows for greater throughput and capacity," explained Current Analysis analyst William Ho.

"The value of 4G technologies is largely realized by using larger channels--it's been argued that at smaller channels, WiMAX or LTE aren't any more efficient than 3G," added Current Analysis analyst Peter Jarich.

The Wireless Communications Association International trade group first brought the channel widening proposal to the FCC last year, urging the commission to "amend its rules governing out-of-band emission (OOBE) limits for mobile digital stations in the 2.5 GHz band to accommodate the use of the wider channel bandwidths." According to the WCAI, the FCC's initial OOBE requirements for the Broadband Radio Service and the Educational Broadband Service bands (located around 2.5 GHz) assumed 5.5 MHz channels, but the group said the latest wireless network standards for WiMAX and LTE offer channel configurations that are up to 20 MHz wide.

"Twenty MHz channels using WiMAX or TDD LTE 4G technologies are expected to provide 20-50% average throughput gains relative to existing 10 MHz WiMAX systems and double the peak throughput," WCAI noted in its proposal. WCAI membership includes Clearwire, DigitalBridge Communications, FiberTower, Open Range Communications, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and others.

Clearwire last year in Phoenix tested an LTE network running in both 10x10 MHz and 20x20 MHz network configurations via equipment from Samsung and Huawei. Clearwire recorded download speeds of 50 Mbps in the 10x10 configuration, and 90 Mbps downloads (and around 30 Mbps uploads) in the 20x20 configuration. Clearwire officials have acknowledged the carrier expects to move from WiMAX network technology to LTE at some point in the future.

For more:
- see this FCC agenda
- see this WCAI proposal (PDF)

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