What a roller coaster of a year for Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR)!
The Kirkland, Wash.-based mobile WiMax provider became a broadband contender, but always against a backdrop of share price highs and lows, possible legal and regulatory issues, and the constant question of whether Craig McCaw's crew can deliver on the promise of nationwide wireless broadband.
We'll begin to find that out next year. For now, let's review the Clearwire craziness.
10. The Adaptix challenge
December 2008 still had a twist in its tail for Clearwire and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) as base-station vendor Adaptix Inc. launched a patent complaint against the pair. Adaptix is claiming that its patents cover Clearwire's plans to offer service using technology based on 802.16e standard, something that could potentially have a more wide-ranging impact in 2009.
9. CLWR: contender
Speculation swirled around Clearwire like flies on sherbet for the first five months of 2008. The operator deep-sixed its deal with Sprint late in 2007 but almost instantly talk of a renewed deal emerged, with a roaming deal between the two being the first real clue that not all bridges had been burnt. This led to a fit of speculation that the knot would be re-tied at April's CTIA show and the inevitable letdown when it didn't happen.
8. Backhaul bites back
Clearwire partner Sprint was tripped up by the sheer horsepower needed to supply bits and bytes over the air for WiMax base stations, causing it to delay its initial WiMax launch in April. Clearwire CTO John Saw eventually stepped up to explain how Clearwire would make the backroom magic happen with microwaves.
6. The stocks 'n' shocks roller coaster
One of the ever-present threads running through Unstrung's coverage of Clearwire this year was the extremely volatile nature of the company's shares, global economic Armageddon notwithstanding. The way that shareholders reacted to any news about the company was swift, surprising, and often unpredictable.
5. The LTE tease
Clearwire has been both dogmatic and pragmatic on the proto-4G technology rival to WiMax -- Long Term Evolution (LTE) -- this year. Ben Wolff, the firm's CEO, initially claimed that WiMax would be "at least two years ahead of the competition... We have a substantial time-to-market advantage over others who have only just got their 4G spectrum." Toward the end of this year, however, while reiterating WiMax's lead, he said that Clearwire could use LTE alongside WiMax technology if it evolves into a global standard.
4. Flagpole jittersAT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) could have proved to be the grit in the oyster for Cleawire in the second half of this year. The No. 1 cellular provider in the U.S. complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about spectrum allocation in the Sprint asset merger. Just one of the factors that could have -- but didn't -- trip Clearwire on the way to the finish line in 2008.
3. Crunchy cost questions
It is an issue that is bound to dog Clearwire into 2009 and beyond. Can it raise enough money and control costs as tightly as possible in order to complete a nationwide WiMax rollout?
1. The $14.5B WiMax giant
Well, what did you think we were going to pick? Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Google, and the cable companies' investment in Clearwire is one of the few events that actually stands a chance of shifting the wireless status quo in the U.S., however slightly that may be.