You might be surprised to hear that Clearwire’s General Manager of Philadelphia Andrew Kupiec thinks the city’s mobile market isn’t crowded. It’s a big market, he says, and there’s plenty of room in the proverbial sandbox.
“Mobility and speed is our focus … We don’t need to unseat any of the incumbents, the major players in the market,” the Phoenixville resident – who grew up outside Bryn Mawr – said in a telephone interview with Technically Philly Tuesday.
Since we reported that Clear’s next-generation 4G mobile network had soft-launched in early October, the company has been on a major marketing push in Philadelphia. In recent weeks, you might have spotted branded buses and billboards or browsed across localized Internet ads with the company’s slick, green logo.
But it’s just as likely that you’ve walked past one of Comcast’s High-Speed 2Go 4G wireless demo kiosks that have been setup throughout the city. Sprint, too, quietly launched 4G service in late October.
The timing is no coincidence. Sprint and Comcast both have a financial stake in the Clearwire WiMAX network, and are utilizing the Philly rollout to offer their own next generation high-speed services. Yesterday, it was announced that Sprint will invest $1.176 billion in Clearwire, with Comcast promising an additional $176 million in a new round of funding. Google, an initial investor in the network, has chosen not to fund Clearwire in this round. Some analysts see Google’s decision as a loss off faith in WiMAX technology while next generation Long Term Evolution technology gains support from major network carriers.
If we ought not say Philly is crowded, then we can certainly say that residents have mobile broadband options, and more to come. We talked to Kupiec about the Clearwire roll-out, how it is differentiating itself from Sprint and Comcast, what the company is doing to address the digital divide and more, after the jump.
Edited for length and clarity.
Explain what 4G technology is for someone who may not know.
It’s important for everyone to understand that unlike a WiFi hotspot connection, our technology covers the entire metropolitan area. As of today, we’re covering over 1,000-square miles and 3.6 million people that can, for lack of a better term, “roam” through our coverage area.
Everyone’s heard of 3G, and that’s a great technology, but it has some limitations. Typical download speeds of 1 [megabits per second]. With the 4G that we provide, we’re seeing several times faster than that; average download speeds between four and six megs, with bursts up to 7, 8 and 10 [megabits per second]. It’s the same experience you’d expect at home.
We’re starting to see Clear’s advertising campaign appearing throughout the city. How did you decide where to advertise? What demographics are you concentrating on?
We have a very dynamic advertising campaign and you may see some of our slogans, [like one on a billboard near the Commodore Barry Bridge across the Delaware River]. The billboard says ‘This is not the Commodore Barry Bridge’ This is yet another place to stream video.’ Some people think they are lost, it’s a running joke here at the office. Besides buses, trains and billboards, we have a very dynamic commercial campaign. We’re running a beer spot during sporting events like the World Series and Eagles games. Our strategy is to go after the 18 to 49 tech optimist, we call them. We really touch every single person we can.
Watch one of the commercials below. Story continues after video embed:
What is it like to launch in Philadelphia where there is such a crowded mobile market?
Is this a crowded market? Maybe. I don’t really see it that way. It is a very large market with 5 million people. There’s plenty of room for all of us to play in the sandbox. Our focus is how do we attack the customer base where they can get the same speeds they can expect at home and take it on the go. We don’t need to unseat any of the incumbents, the major players in the market. We see our wholesale partnerships as key.
Could you explain to me the wholesale partnerships between Clear, Sprint and Comcast? Sprint and Comcast are offering the same network with their own brands, right?
I can speak only for Clear and our strategy. What I can tell you is our partnerships have helped build the market and build the brand. Our wholesale partnerships are a key component to the business model. In terms of differentiating services, for Clear, we have our strategies of mobility, home and digital voice, [some of which] are unique to the Clear network.
Will we see Clear retail stores in Philly? How else will we see and know Clear is around Philadelphia?
We have eight retail stores up and running. We’re looking at adding some more, some of which will hopefully open up by Black Friday. We sought out a select number of smaller businesses, computer stores and electronics stores and partnered with them to sell our products. In a tough economy, that really has helped spark revenue for small businesses in and around Philadelphia.
Could you touch on some of the small businesses you’re referring to?
I don’t want to show favoritism. We have some TV repair and electronics stores and computer repair stores. If you think of every town and city in metro area, we have means for you to buy [the service], through national or local channels.
There’s been a lot of competition between WiMAX and Long Term Evolution 4G technologies. Google, an initial investor in Clearwire won’t be an investor in Clearwire’s recently announced $1.564 billion in funding. Google has said in the past that it is planning its mobile future around LTE. Is this loss of faith a blow to Clear’s WiMAX network?
[Clearwire Director of Corporate Communications Jennifer Morgan asked that Kupiec decline to comment, and that we schedule a follow-up conversation with someone on Clear’s corporate level that could better address the question. In Clearwire’s Q3 earnings call yesterday, Clearwire CEO said that Google still believes in Clearwire’s network and to not read anything negative into the decision. “They have put $500 million into the company when this thing got going which was one of the largest investments they have ever made into a different company,” he reminded investors.]
It’s estimated that 50 percent of the city doesn’t have household access to the Internet. Are there any plans to provide affordable services to low-income individuals in the city or to partner with local organizations to help bridge the digital divide?
If you look at our coverage, we have the city and city limits blanketed with coverage. [It’s] very strong in both better economical demographics and the poorer section. We provide an affordable internet service, above and beyond expectations of what people currently have access to in those areas. We have plans that start at $20 per month and range up, and day plans for $10. We feel our strategy and our pricing point is very affordable to the average consumer who has a computer and wants access. Because we provide wireless and cover the metro area, this is now a viable option for anyone.
Every Friday, Technically Philly brings you an interview with a leader or innovator in Philadelphia’s technology community. See others here.