From the outset, as an early adopter, I'm very intrigued by the prospect of mobile WiMax, and even more excited about fixed WiMax.
Well despite the hype, the always very much user oriented DSL Reports, has a post today about Clearwires woes. It seems the speeds being touted are not being seen by that many users, except in demos.
Early on in this decade I was an early adopter in San Diego of Metrocom's Ricochet service. In some locations the service worked as advertised, but in others it didn't. As time went on, it improved, my agency was asked in the last few months of its life to help, and we tripled the customer base here in San Diego through some then very innovative promotions, just before the bottom fell out for them.
I fear the same for Clearwire as they're not really marketing the service the right way (i.e. give it away now, let the users help make it better for one thing.) We learned many lessons in three months of marketing Ricochet, the biggest one being that a then dial up customer had no idea what the difference was between dial up, cable modem, DSL or a mobile, on the go Internet. I would contend that for the most part, the buying public doesn't know (or care to know) the difference that Mobile WiMax brings them, despite what I saw at IT Expo. Why? They people evangelizing the product are selling to people like themselves. What's more, I would contend that those that needed Ricochet, vs. those who embraced it early, were very different types of customers, as the biggest revelation we learned was that people who needed it most, the mobile work force didn't know it was really there until it was too late.
Too much marketing of new technology is based on the wow factor and the desire to get to as my agency colleague Bill Ryan, whose former agency NRW launched Yahoo and repositioned Apple for Steve Jobs, likes to say, "speed to cool." Another way to describe that is the "wow factor" and how fast you can get someone there. That works for early adopters like me, but to get a regular person, a follower type of decision maker who is so far down what we have labeled as "the Boulevard of Communications" is a major leap, and it doesn't happen easy.
If Clearwire is going to grow, it will need to be by growing with the help of the customers. Right now the day pass is the best sampling program they have but it requires an upfront investment in a 4G modem. To me, that's not exactly how to get someone to sample the product, nor is simply a demonstration. If Clearwire wants to really show how good they can be, and convince a suspecting and unaware buying public they need to really embrace sampling, which as we've seen in the world of Free, needs to be really just that. FREE to try.
As someone who is hooked on wireless, being able to try new technology that makes me tether-less sure makes me realize a lot more of what can be done and who can use it more. For example, my MiFi's from Sprint, Verizon and the unlocked unit I use on AT&T and internationally, means I can now go to lunch or dinner for work at restaurants that have no interest in installing WiFi. I can sit in parks and read, using a PDA that is WiFi enabled (ala an iPod Touch) and even, as I have realized, go to the gym and work out, without being so unplugged.
High speed wireless, ala Mobile WiMax has lots of unlocked potential, but first Clearwire has to get beyond the same old (and failed) approaches to marketing and really bring a difference to the marketplace.