Hesse Hedges on a Clearwire Buyout

NEW YORK -- Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) CEO Dan Hesse only dodged one question during a wide-ranging talk at a UBS AG conference here Wednesday, when he refused to say whether his company could buy the rest of WiMax partner Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) at some point in the future.

"I'm not supposed to answer that," he told the audience.

Sprint owns a 57 percent stake in Clearwire, and Hesse made it clear during the talk that Sprint sees the "4G" services that run over the Kirkland, Wash.-based operator's growing network as increasingly useful. So, even if it isn't going to buy Clearwire anytime soon, Sprint wants to keep a majority stake.

"I would find it hard for me to imagine a situation where we would let our ownership fall below 50 percent," Hesse said.

He also said that Sprint would have deployed a next-generation network all by itself if it had the money available. "If I had the cash resources to do it ourselves and own 4G, that's what I would have done," Hesse explained.

As it stood, though, the Clearwire deal allowed Sprint to split the funding of a WiMax rollout among several companies. The operator even pumped another $1 billion into the WiMax operator recently. (See Clearwire Confirms $1.5B-Plus Funding Boost .)

Hesse thinks that the hot device for Sprint on the WiMax network next year won't be a smartphone but a tiny personal router that can connect WiFi-enabled devices to either WiMax or 3G networks. "The big product for us that’s coming out early next year is a dual-mode 3G/4G MiFi product," Hesse says.

Such products would remove the need to buy a whole new set of devices. (See WiMax Gizmos Galore! and This Week in WiMax.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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