Comcast WiMax Lifts Off

Comcast let loose its first wireless high-speed Internet service last week in Portland, Ore., and eventually the cable company expects to provide mobile voice and video to subscribers as well.

“Over time, we would want our customers to be able to take all their information, entertainment and communications services 'on the go,' so to speak,” said Cathy Avgiris, Comcast's senior vice president and general manager for wireless and voice services. “But you can't do them all at the same time.”

Initially the Comcast High-Speed 2go service will provide download speeds up to 4 Mbps over Clearwire's WiMax network footprint. An optional nationwide plan offers WiMax plus access to Sprint Nextel's 3G network with downloads up to 1.5 Mbps.

After the initial Portland launch, the MSO expects to offer wireless broadband in markets including Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia before the end of 2009.

“This is the first product we're launching. This is step one,” Avgiris said. “It's a natural extension to our existing Internet service.”

Clearwire has said it will evaluate adding mobile voice to its product line in 2010, and the company has discussed working with its cable partners to offer mobile voice services and handsets.

On the video front, Avgiris noted that Comcast's On-Demand Online initiative will offer cable TV programming to PCs over the Web. “That's the first way we're enabling a customer to enjoy content somewhere other than TV,” she said.

Comcast is pricing the mobile broadband service to attract customers that have not subscribed to Internet service, according to Avgiris, although the WiMax services also will be available separately.

The operator's Fast Pack Metro with 12-Mbps home Internet service and WiMax service is $49.99 per month for the first 12 months, and includes a free Wi-Fi 802.11g home router. (After the one-year introductory rate, the price goes up to $72.95 per month.) Fast Pack Nationwide, $69.99 per month with wired broadband at 12 Mbps ($92.95 after 12 months), adds nationwide 3G mobile network access through Sprint.

Comcast invested $1.05 billion in Clearwire, which formed in November 2008 by combining with the 4G assets of Sprint. Other Clearwire investors include Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Intel and Google.

Through its stake in Clearwire, Comcast purchases WiMax network access services in a wholesale arrangement. To date, Clearwire has launched home and mobile WiMax service in Portland, Atlanta and Baltimore and plans to launch the service in 80 markets reaching up to 120 million people by the end of 2010.

Comcast will offer laptop adapters from China's ZTE for the WiMax-only Metro offering, and will provide dual-mode WiMax/3G cards from Franklin Wireless for Nationwide plan customers.

Avgiris, one of Multichannel News' 2007 Wonder Women, assumed responsibility for Comcast's wireless services around the beginning of this year.