Clearwire sticks to ambitious WiMAX plans

Despite the economic downturn, Clearwire shows no sign of any wavering in its commitment to WiMAX. During Thursday’s conference call on full-year 2008 results, Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff reaffirmed the company’s aim to provide WiMAX coverage to around 120 million people in the US by the end of 2010.

“During 2009, we expect to launch our ‘Clear’ branded mobile broadband services in a number of new markets such as Las Vegas, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas/Ft. Worth and in our largest existing markets, namely Baltimore, Seattle, Honolulu and Charlotte,” Wolff said.

Some analysts had expected Clearwire to trim down its previously announced targets on WiMAX rollout given the tighter credit conditions on the world’s money markets.

In June 2008, Clearwire said it was aiming for between a 120-million and 140-million population coverage by the end of next year. The company’s announcement it is roughly keeping to that target is a reassuring one for the WiMAX community. Clearwire has so far rolled out commercial mobile WiMAX service in only two US markets – Baltimore, Maryland, and Portland, Oregon, which launched September 2008 and January 2009 respectively.

Clearwire anticipates that cash spend for 2009 will be between $1.5bn and $1.9bn. The company is in a much stronger cash position following a combined $3.2bn injection of capital for equity last year from Intel, Google and three US cable operators, of which $3.1bn was available for WiMAX rollout as of 31 December 2008.

Sprint Nextel, the third largest mobile operator in the US, holds around a 51 percent stake in the Clearwire JV, which was approved by the FCC in November 2008.

But Clearwire, which also operates ‘pre-WiMAX’ fixed and nomadic services in a number of US markets, is still finding the going tough. It posted a net loss of $118m during 4Q 2008 ($108.3m 4Q 2007), while the full-year net loss was $432.6m (a $224.7m net loss during 2007).

On its top line, the new Clearwire was able to post a modest year-on-year service revenue improvement for 4Q08, going from $45.4m (Q407) to $59.7m.


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