Clearwire's Holding Pattern

CHICAGO -- WiMax World 2008 -- WiMax upstart Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) is in a holding pattern as it waits for regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its WiMax asset merger with the Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) XOHM business.

Clearwire's status was clearly the question on everyone’s lips as its CEO, Ben Wolff, took the stage for his Wednesday morning keynote. [Ed note: It turned out to be more of a chat than a speech,actually.] Wolff, however, stuck to the company line, saying Clearwire expects the deal to close by the end of the year.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has been pushing the FCC to review the spectrum terms of the merger, complaining that Clearwire and Sprint own unused 2.5 GHz capacity that it isn’t included in the review process. The FCC is expected to look at the Clearwire deal soon and hand down a decision. (See AT&T Looks to Block Sprint/Clearwire Merger and Clearwire: We're Still on Track.)

The waiting period means that the CEO still has to be somewhat tight-lipped about future deployment plans. Clearwire has said it hopes to launch its first mobile WiMax market in Portland, Ore., sometime this year, with Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Grand Rapids, Mich., to follow.

"There are a number of additional markets on the way," Wolff said. "We expect to have somewhere between 60 and 80 million people covered by the end of next year."

Putative partner Sprint has been less cautious about talking up its XOHM plans and the completion of the Clearwire deal, without actually adding a huge amount of detail. The operator went commercial with its first XOHM mobile WiMax deployment in Baltimore on Monday. Sprint representatives helpfully told Unstrung Tuesday that the Clearwire deal is "right around the corner" and that a WiMax launch in Chicago is “imminent.” (See Chicago WiMax Is 'Imminent'.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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