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Roberts Clearer on Clearwire Strategy

Jeff Baumgartner
5/29/2008

So, why did Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) find religion on WiMax and opt to pour more than $1 billion into the new Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR) venture?

Comcast's name sits alongside Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Intel Capital , and a cadre of other major cable MSOs participating in the re-creation of Clearwire announced earlier this month. (See Sprint, Clearwire Create $14.5B WiMax Giant, Cable Plays Clearwire Card, and Mobile WiMax.)

It was one of several topics Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts addressed this morning at the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. Strategic Decisions Conference in New York.

For starters, Comcast is getting a nice wholesale-laden "founders deal" for its 7 percent, $1.5 billion investment, and the partners involved all have a desire "to create a, wow, better-than, not a me-too, high-speed experience for a variety of applications," Roberts said.

Roberts said he became a believer partly due to a Clearwire WiMax demo that served up video as he and his test group zipped down the road at 50 miles per hour.

He also talked up the assets of the deal, including 150 MHz per market of "virgin spectrum," and stressed that the 2G/3G/4G roaming component of the deal helped to offset the other wireless/mobile options Comcast was considering.

"The speed may vary, but connectivity remains," he said. "That roaming function was critical to get the venture moving."

But what about all of those partners? Might too many cooks in the kitchen spoil what they're trying to cook up with WiMax?

No, Roberts said, because of the wholesale nature of the deal, which allows the partners to bill, sell, market, authenticate, bundle, and brand the service however they so choose.

"There was no opportunity out there quite as elegant," Roberts proclaimed.

At least it had better be more elegant that the recently trashed "Pivot" joint venture with Sprint. (See MSOs Pivoting Away From Sprint JV.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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