Clearwire has launched a free test area 4G WiMax network for the developer community in Silicon Valley he launch of the largest test area yet for its 4G WiMax service in Silicon Valley.

The "Innovation Network," as Clearwire has dubbed it, covers 20 square miles of the valley, and is intended to hit the developer community where it lives.

The network covers Santa Clara, Mountain View and parts of downtown Palo Alto, California. That means it can service the campuses of Google, Intel and Cisco, and perhaps the apartments and garages of many other independent developers. Clearwire originally announced plans for the network in April.

In order to get unlimited access to the network developers must prove that they are working on a legitimate project, and they must purchase one of Clearwire's WiMax modems, which start at $50. And the free service offer lasts only one year.

What's In It for Clearwire?

Clearwire hopes that by being the first in the area to offer a fast 4G network in the neighborhood, it will spur developers to create new apps that depend on and leverage 4G speed. (WiMax can deliver average download speeds of 3 to 6 Mbps, while most 3G networks average download speeds of between 600 kbps - 1.4 Mbps.) For instance, a Clearwire rep told me, possible apps might use multiple high-bandwidth services like video and large file sharing.

The move by Clearwire is an interesting one, but certainly won't be enough to turn the tide for the WiMax wireless standard in the long term. And Clearwire knows it. The best thing about WiMax is that it is rolling out today--Clearwire says it's "Clear" WiMax service will be available to 120 million people by the end of next year. Even if they reach that goal, it doesn't mean WiMax will become the dominant wireless technology of the future. Not by a long shot.

Long Term Evolution (LTE)

In fact, one of the biggest pieces of news to come out of the 4G World conference in Chicago came yesterday morning when Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow said his company is prepared to switch to the competing LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard if necessary. So the "Innovation Network" may end up being a good developer relations move for Clearwire, but not necessarily for WiMax.

The truth is that the wireless industry is moving away from WiMax. Most major wireless carriers and equipment makers have been lining up behind LTE. Predicting the eventual winner between WiMax and LTE is a little complex, but it boils down to economics: the standard with the largest "ecosystem" of infrastructure and chipset makers around it will end up winning. That's simply because there will be more competition in the larger ecosystem, which results in more innovation, and ultimately lower costs for both carriers and consumers.

In that light Clearwire's offer is interesting: It looks to be a sort of end-around win over the developer community as a means of someday forcing wireless providers and equipment makers to follow suite. But while the strategy of engaging the developer community has certainly worked for Facebook, Google, and Apple, Clearwire and WiMax might be a tougher sell. As a Clearwire rep told me, the wireless apps the WiMax-connected developers create will run just as well on a 4G network of the LTE variety in the future. There's nothing WiMax-specific about the apps that will be created.