Sprint: WiMax Options Open

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is promising a WiMax "market update" at the NXTcomm show in Chicago on June 21.

This follows a report that the company may be considering more partnerships centered around the wireless broadband technology or even a spinoff of its WiMax unit. Sprint tends to announce new towns and cities where WiMax is going to be deployed via these market updates rather than partnerships. The Reston, Va.-based operator has so far said that it will have a total of 19 WiMax markets ready by the end of April 2008.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sprint may be considering a link-up with rival WiMax operator Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), a cable company partnership, or an outright spinoff, to further finance its $3 billion WiMax deployment because of pressure from its investors. The company is already recieiving undisclosed amounts from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and Samsung Corp. to help with the deployment and marketing of this new technology. (See Sprint Picks Nokia for WiMax.)

A Sprint spokesman didn't take the possibility of further partnerships off the table. Sprint is considering "all options," he told Unstrung this afternoon. However, he described the reports as "highly speculative."

Nonetheless, Sprint has always been open about its ambitions to find new and different ways to fund this new network. The operator told Unstrung back in April that it might seek out large corporations, conference centers, and shopping malls to sponsor its deployments of indoor WiMax radios. (See Sprint Taking WiMax Indoors.)

For now, however, the operator stresses that it is looking at a number of options for further funding of WiMax.

Northern's swansong
Separately, Sprint this week continued its slow buy-up of local PCS affiliates with plans for the acquisition of Northern PCS for $312.5 million, including assumed debt, announced Wednesday.

Northern PCS, based in Waite Park, Minn., serves more than 236,000 Sprint Nextel subscribers in parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

Sprint's acquisitions of these local operators have helped it avoid trouble and potential legal issues following affliates' complaints about the merger between Sprint and Nextel in 2005. Sprint's last major affiliate acquisition was UbiquiTel in 2006 for $1.3 billion. (See AirGate Sues Sprint and Sprint Nextel Buys Alamosa.)

The Northern deal is a smaller deal than many of the previous acquisitions, on which Sprint has so far spent billions of dollars. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year, subject to regulatory approval.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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