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Clearwire's Last Chance Saloon

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan
12/17/2012

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s $2.2 billion offer for the half of Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) that it doesn't already own looks like the last chance saloon for the WiMax operator in its two-year-long quest for strategic options. (See Sprint Ups Bid for Clearwire to $2.2B .)

If the deal with Sprint does not close, then "financial restructuring is quite possible," said Clearwire CEO Erik Prusch on Monday during the investor call about the transaction with Sprint.

Prusch noted that Clearwire had so far spent more than $3 billion on its WiMax rollout and LTE upgrade but that it had "limited ability to finance LTE build and obtain additional wholesale customers with substantial data capacity needs."

The lack of wholesale customers is a critical problem for Clearwire. As Prusch explained, the "ability to attract additional major customers is the single-biggest factor in long-term viability of our business."

Prusch rehashed all of the alternatives that Clearwire has considered over the last two years, most of which will be familiar to Light Reading Mobile readers.

The company has been trying to win big wholesale customers -- rather than just rely on Sprint -- but the company is uncertain that it can achieve this.

Clearwire has also talked to potential strategic partners and investors, but its hands were tied for doing any kind of deal since Sprint was not interested in selling its share of the company.

The company attempted to sell some of its excess spectrum in 2010, but the resulting bids were not valuable enough. Also, selling some spectrum would not help Clearwire's bigger problem of not being able to win new wholesale customers.

Clearwire also considered debt financing and financial restructuring, but neither option appealed.

So, considering all of what Clearwire has explored in previous years, Sprint's $2.97 per share bid is looking good to the WiMax operator. Indeed, Sprint's offer was unanimously approved by Clearwire's board. And it certainly looks like the last option before strategic alternatives run dry.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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