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Clearwire strikes 4G development alliance with China Mobile

Clearwire is partnering with the world's largest carriers in developing products using TD-LTE technology.

Clearwire enlisted some big help in its effort to switch to another flavor of 4G technology.

The upstart high-speed wireless provider said today that it had formed a partnership with China Mobile to work together to develop products and equipment using a standard of 4G technology called TD-LTE, which is incompatible with what the other major U.S. carriers are using.

By partnering with China Mobile, Clearwire takes advantage of the breadth and scale of the Chinese company, which is the world's largest carrier with more than 700 million subscribers. The goal is to set common standards and product and network roadmaps, making it easier and less expensive for vendors to supply equipment. Under this dynamic, a vendor could make a phone for China Mobile, which Clearwire could also snap up for a lower bulk price.

"We want to hitch ourselves to that huge bandwagon," John Saw, chief technology officer for Clearwire, told CNET today.

In other situations, Clearwire and China Mobile could sit at the table as equal partners when selecting a device, Saw said. Because China Mobile and Clearwire are also using the same kind of spectrum, Saw added that there was an opportunity for global roaming agreements.

The partnership also allows the companies to coordinate on their respective plans to eventually move to LTE-Advanced, a faster variant of current LTE technology.

Clearwire, which has a subscriber base that is roughly 100 times smaller than China Mobile, said last month that it planned to switch to TD-LTE to take advantage of its increased speed and to meet demand from wholesale customers. The company had previously used a technology called WiMax, another variant of 4G that was available earlier than LTE.

In addition to selling directly to consumers, it provides wholesale 4G services to Sprint Nextel, the cable companies, and other resellers. Sprint, however, remains its largest customer and investor.

Clearwire, however, is strapped for cash and is looking for $600 million to fund the change in network technology.

"We're still looking at our options," Saw said. "We want to be very certain before we announce anything."