Clearwire & Sprint Team on WiMax

WiMax contenders Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have confirmed partnership rumors, today unveiling a plan to jointly deploy wireless broadband services across the U.S.

The companies plan to split deployment of WiMax in the U.S. between them -- with Sprint handling around 65 percent of the buildout and Clearwire the other 35 percent. Spectrum-sharing agreements are also in the offing, although the whole partnership deal is subject to government approval. Sprint CEO Gary Forsee foresees the companies passing the regulatory hurdles by the end of this year. The agreement should help to reduce the $3 billion expense of deploying WiMax for Sprint, although Forsee wouldn't be drawn on exactly by how much yet. "We are reducing our capital and operating expenses as result of this agreement," he allows.

Meanwhile, Clearwire gets a far better support infrastructure than the young company could hope to provide by itself. The agreement will allow it to use Sprint's 3G network, cell towers, backhaul, and distribution networks.

Sprint CTO Barry West says his company is still on track for the launch of initial WiMax markets at the end of 2007. The firms maintain that they will cover 100 million people by the end of 2008.

West says that the two firms will standardize on WiMAX Forum 's profile C for mobile WiMax services and are demanding interoperability from their vendors -- although most of the Clearwire networks that have already been deployed use pre-WiMax technology for fixed wireless services.

The deal also makes it less likely that other operators will be able to offer nationwide licensed WiMax services, since Clearwire and Sprint now have a lock on much of the broadband suitable for WiMax outside of the public bands in the U.S. (See WiMax USA: Spectrum Crunch.)

Sprint has the major tranche with 90 MHz of 2.5GHz spectrum, covering 80 markets in the U.S. Clearwire is no spectrum slouch, however. The company says that -- even before AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) sold it more licenses this February -- it had enough bandwidth to cover 205 million people in the U.S. (See AT&T Sells Spectrum to Clearwire.)

The next swathe of wireless broadband spectrum won't be opened up until nearly the end of the decade as analog TV broadcasters move to digital. (See FCC Wants Open Broadband.) — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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