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Wireless pioneer keeps Clearwire in the shadows

During a speech at the WCA 2004 conference, Craig McCaw stays mum on details of a summer launch for his new wireless broadband service.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--During a speech at a conference here Wednesday, cellular pioneer Craig McCaw stayed mum on details of a possible summer launch for his Clearwire wireless broadband service.

Some media outlets had speculated that McCaw would reveal additional details about Clearwire's service at the WCA 2004 wireless broadband conference, but instead he disappointed conference attendees, saying only, "I think this has been reported already."

"We come into this opportunity with our eyes open," McCaw said.

McCaw is the mobile industry billionaire behind McCaw Cellular Communications, one of the first successful cell phone providers, which AT&T acquired in 1994. He is also a major shareholder of cell phone carrier Nextel Communications and satellite company ICO.

Clearwire plans to launch its service this summer in Jacksonville, Fla., and St. Cloud, Minn. When it rolls out its service nationwide, it will compete against wired broadband providers and the nation's largest cell phone companies.

Cellular providers currently sell wireless Internet access at speeds of up to 500 kilobits per second but plan to increase that to more than 2.4 megabits per second. The Clearwire service is expected to offer up to 1.5mbps.

McCaw's new venture has been in the works for months. Last July, he announced an investment into NextNet, which makes equipment that delivers high-speed Internet access to areas where the geography prevents connections via telephone lines or fiber optics. Clearwire has since purchased the company and intends to use NextNet's network, deployed in 20 locations globally, including in Mexico, Canada, the United States and Asia, as the backbone for its service, the company said in a statement released following McCaw's address.

Earlier versions of so-called equipment failed to rouse much interest from broadband providers, because the antennas blasting the access through the air had to be within line of sight of receivers on a home or office rooftop.

Equipment from NextNet Wireless, BeamReach Networks, Navini Networks and IPWireless solves that problem. As a result, interest in the technology from carriers and investors is on the rise.

Broadband providers in Ireland and Korea, as well as U.S. Web providers Verizon Communications, Sprint PCS and BellSouth, are testing various manufacturers' fixed wireless equipment.