Clearwire & Sprint: On Again?
The Wall Street Journal reports this week that the chipmaker's venture capital arm could pump as much as $2 billion into a Clearwire-Sprint venture. Intel Capital has already invested over $600 million in Craig McCaw's wireless venture, the largest investment the firm has made in a single company. Intel Capital more typically provides funding of $10 million or less for startup companies.
Unstrung reported last week that such a deal could be announced very soon. (See Clearwire-Sprint Deal Soon? ) ThinkEquity LLC analyst Eric Kainer says that, in addition to Intel Capital, the deal could be backed by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM). Kainer reckons that Clearwire is "close to the finish line" with a new deal.
There's been rumors of a reformulated Sprint-Clearwire deal since they split in November 2007. Sprint dissolved its partnership with Clearwire in November, saying the deal was too complex and the companies could not "reach final agreement on the terms of the transaction." The alliance between the operators was originally inked in July 2007. (See Sprint Reconsiders WiMax Plans.) The reason for a new funded venture is simple. Clearwire and Sprint need money to cover the massive costs of rolling out a nationwide WiMax network in the U.S.
Clearwire has always been open on the need to further fund its business plan. "We do not expect to satisfy all of our long-term capital and spectrum acquisition needs through this offering," the company wrote in its IPO documents in March 2007. (See Clearwire's Cash Craving.) The firm initially secured $1.2 billion in private funding, $600 million through the IPO, and a $1 billion loan facility in August 2007. This was followed by the partnership deal with Sprint in November, which was further supposed to reduce the company's network expenditures. Nonetheless, Sprint has estimated it will spend $3 billion on deploying WiMax through 2008.
The costs for Clearwire working alone are higher because it is a "greenfield" operation that has to build out all its own cellsites. Some analysts have predicted that this could cost anywhere between $5 billion and $10 billion. (See Clearwire's Bubble Bursts.)
The companies have not made any official comment on a new WiMax partnership. Clearwire did, however, recently confirm that it was working on a WiMax roaming deal with Sprint. (See Clearwire Roams With Sprint.) — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung