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Originally published October 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 17, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Clearwire draws closer to mobile

Clearwire is taking another step closer toward a high-speed wireless Internet service that can be used on the go. Beginning today, the Kirkland...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Clearwire is taking another step closer toward a high-speed wireless Internet service that can be used on the go.

Beginning today, the Kirkland company is selling a PC card that gives laptops a wireless broadband connection in Clearwire's 44 U.S. markets, including Seattle.

The technology Clearwire uses allows people to connect to the Internet wirelessly, but is technically not considered mobile because it cannot guarantee maintaining a connection while moving throughout a city. The service will be upgraded to a technology called "mobile WiMax" starting next year that will be designed to have dependable roaming capabilities.

Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, AT&T and other wireless operators have been offering similar high-speed wireless data services for the past few years through their cellphone networks. That service is commonly called 3G, for the third generation of wireless networks.

In 2004, Clearwire started offering its service through a network of towers using proprietary technology based on WiMax. It mostly competes with DSL and cable Internet access because it requires a modem the size of a hardcover that needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet and can be cumbersome. The PC card, which slips into a laptop slot, makes the service more mobile.

Clearwire has been testing it in Seattle and other markets for the past few months. During a demonstration Tuesday, the service worked similarly to Wi-Fi and 3G cellular connections.

Once the card is in the laptop, and software is installed, the customer is connected to the Internet. Unlike cellular services, the user doesn't have to log in. The PC card comes with an additional antenna that, if needed, clips to the top of the laptop screen for extra strength.

Scott Richardson, Clearwire's chief strategy officer, said Clearwire's service typically has more capacity than Wi-Fi and 3G services so it won't slow down when a lot of users are connecting, something that occurs at popular locations. But 3G may still be more attractive to frequent travelers since Clearwire's service area is limited to its 44 markets.

For that reason, Richardson said he thinks it will appeal more to users who work within those markets — real-estate agents, general contractors, students or people who frequently pay for Wi-Fi.

The price and speed are relatively similar to 3G services. Clearwire is charging $59.99 a month for speeds of up to 1.5 megabits per second for downloads and 256 kilobits per second for uploads (the residential-modem service provides 2 Mbps speeds for downloads and 256 Kbps for uploads).

The laptop card will be sold for $229.98, or leased for $6.99 a month. Those who want to have the service at home and on the go can get the modem and PC card together for $79.99 a month; the rate increases to $94.99 after three months (the price includes modem rental fees).

In July, Clearwire announced a partnership with Sprint Nextel to jointly roll out a nationwide WiMax network, with roaming on each other's services. That partnership has not been finalized, and Sprint Nextel Chief Executive Gary Forsee resigned last week.

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Despite that, Richardson said Tuesday that the deal is still being negotiated.

"We continue to work on it, and are optimistic," he said. "We still have the goal of seeking out a partnership."

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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