This Week in WiMax
The Bank of Sprint should keep Clearwire afloat, for now
Remember all those stories of doom about Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) from earlier this year? About how the company would have to slow down its rollout if it couldn't find additional funding in the capital markets? Turns out, Clearwire didn't need to go outside its core group of investors to find more working capital -- in fact the balance of its latest $1.5 billion-plus round came from majority owner Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), which may be seeing a lot more worth and a bigger opportunity for reselling Clearwire's 4G services than it did a year ago. Hence the new enthusiasm from Sprint CEO Dan Hesse to help Clearwire build out as quickly as possible, aiding Sprint in return.
To be fair, we all know a lot more now than we did a year ago, especially as it pertains to matters in the mobile broadband space. From the continuing demand for advanced smartphones like the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and now the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) Droid, it's clear that customers everywhere are at least interested enough in the possibilities of handheld platforms that they're willing to drop a couple hundred bucks and sign a two-year plan to give it a whirl.
Though the jury is still somewhat out on Sprint's main entry in the current horse race -- the Palm Inc. Pre -- the market in 2010 will likely be different again, with more Android offerings from various providers, and perhaps a mobile tablet from the folks in Cupertino, Calif. But what won't go away quickly is the problem AT&T is having handling all its iPhone customers on its 3G network. And even though Verizon Wireless is making hay with AT&T's woes right now, Big Red might have some headaches of its own should its Android phones approach iPhone-like sales numbers, since both Verizon and AT&T are somewhat limited when it comes to overall spectrum depth.
Sprint, on the other hand, will have no such limitations as it opens up more and more cities to its 4G services, which are basically a resell of the Clearwire network, which has bandwidth to burn. Our early guess is that Sprint's promised dual-mode 3G/4G smartphone (which Hesse said will ship in 2010) will be an attractive option right out of the gate, if only because it will provide as good connectivity as anything out there today, and much better connectivity in an increasing number of cities. With Chicago, Philly, and Dallas now on the Clearwire map and New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Houston coming in 2010, all of a sudden a dual-mode device might have enough attractive 4G markets to entice big-company road warriors to give WiMax a try.
Verizon's Long Term Evolution (LTE) plans for 2010 might be an interesting 4G story. But since there won't be LTE-enabled smartphones until at least 2011 -- the chips just apparently aren't there yet for anything other than USB dongles or PC Cards in 2010 -- the faster smartphone market seems to be Sprint's to play in by itself for 2010. So putting up some of its cash to help Clearwire stay on its buildout plan seems a no-brainer for Sprint, at least for this year and probably the next year too, given that Sprint seems to be turning itself around and has about $7.5 billion cash on hand. For Clearwire execs, having the Bank of Sprint to count on removes one big anxiety, at least for the short term.
Need to know more about Clearwire and WiMax? Our second version of the "Clearwire NTK" report, which covers Clearwire events from June through September, costs less than a large beer at the local Sprint Nascar race. Just $4.95 on the Sidecut store. Also available for the Kindle. Available now for free download is our "WiMax Business Deployment Guide."
— Paul Kapustka is the founder and editor of Sidecut Reports, a WiMax analysis site and research service. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung.