“Siri, where is Steve Jobs now?”

Today I got my hands on a brand new iPhone 4S.

One of the staff members is an early adopter, and was showing her shiny new phone around the office.  When she handed me the phone and showed me how to access Siri, I thought about what my first question to Siri should be.

I thought…and I thought…and I thought, then I asked:

“Siri, where is Steve Jobs now?”

I waited she pondered my query.  It was as if I could feel here electrons and programming parsing my words and looking for the hidden meaning or message.

It took Siri about 25 seconds to consider and then compose her thoughtful, and thought-provoking reply.  No doubt the millennium of computing time was consumed by Siri searching through all of knowledge and wisdom of Appledom, the web, and then one to the cosmic beyond all to find her creator.

Her job complete, she ever so curtly replied in her clipped speech, “Steve Jobs is not in your address book.”  It was a clear and definitive statement that left no room for interpretation.  No room for doubts or double meanings.

If you ask Siri the same question but get a more definitive answer, please do share it.

I think I’ll ask the same question of the next Siri when I try out an iPhone 5 sometime in late 2012.  Who knows whether she’ll have evolved by then to divine a more complete answer.




Is Clearwire Heading to Bankruptcy?

Five days ago I wrote about Sprint effectively casting off Clearwire to sink or swim on its own.  Perhaps I could have said, “sink or sink.”

Yesterday, October 11th, David Sterman (writing at SeekingAlpha.com) strongly suggested in a well-reasoned piece that Clearwire could go bankrupt by next year.

Mr. Sterman’s arguments about a possible (if not likely) Clearwire bankruptcy ring true in my ears.  He said in part,

In 2011, things got messier. Clearwire had always counted on generous financial support from its largest customer, Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S). (Sprint has made serial capital injections in Clearwire and now owns 48%, controlling 54% of the voting stock.) But Sprint has begun to express regret about pinning its 4G hopes on Clearwire’s network. Once Sprint started to make its own 4G network — using the stronger LTE technology — it was almost a matter of time before it announced a public divorce. In a meeting with analysts on Friday, Oct. 7, Sprint said it would soon stop selling phones that work in conjunction with Clearwire’s 4G network. This caused Clearwire’s stock to fall 30% that same day. And the selling may just be beginning…

Mr. Sterman’s focus on the numbers tells the test of the (sad) story:

Where does this leave Clearwire? The company had 7.7 million customers at the end of the second quarter, of which 80% came through Sprint’s enterprise-level relationships. Clearwire has also been pursuing retail customers through its direct sales efforts (at a cost of about $300 per subscriber in marketing expenses). This summer, management spoke of a full-year target of 10 million customers. But now, after Sprint’s  announcement, it’s not clear how Clearwire intends to draw the additional 2.3 million customers. In addition, the retail wireless business is fiercely competitive, which is why other Clearwire partners such as T-Mobile are also looking for an exit strategy.

Well, at least Clearwire’s frequencies will have some value in a buy-out before BK, or to an auction winner in BK.

Go read Mr. Sterman’s post.  Make up your own mind.

(Thanks for John Pestle, Esq. of the Varnum Law Firm  for pointing me to Mr. Sterman’s article.)



And YOU thought it was a Headend tower! Silly you!

Last month Comcast formed a new tower portfolio company, CTI Towers, Inc. (http://CTItowers.com).

CTI says it will own, operate, and develop telecommunications towers throughout the United States.  Headquartered in Boston, CTI Towers will lease tower space to wireless operators and other tenants, creating additional tower capacity for rapidly evolving wireless businesses and technologies across the U.S.

That makes sense since Comcast has been in the tower business, albeit indirectly, since 1963 when Ralph J. Roberts, Daniel Aaron and Julian A. Brodsky purchased their first cable system in Tupelo, Mississippi.  Virtually every cable system has at least one substantial tower for TV reception antennas, microwave relay dishes, etc.

(By the way, Comcast still owns the Tupelo system to this day, and it’s unlikely that any person with the last name of Roberts in Comcast’s senior management will ever allow that system to be sold.)

CTI Towers is launching with a portfolio of approximately 800 towers that were previously owned and operated by Comcast Cable subsidiaries (read: local Comcast cable systems).  Essentially, the initial portfolio of towers are located at Comcast headends.  If you’d like to verify this, go to the CTI web site and drill down to the overhead photos of the various tower sites…in many cases you’ll spot the tell-tail satellite dish farm right next door.

Comcast’s Loveland, Colorado headend tower (CTI Site No. 10097).  Photo by Kramer.Firm, Inc.

So, by the stoke of a pen, Comcast has taken all of the towers and moved them from the operating expense column to the revenue unit column.  I’m no tax expert, but I have to believe the very, very smart people at Comcast who are have found a way to take a tax advantage on this deal from day one.

Given Comcast’s long view, it would not surprise me if they move into the international market very quickly, partnering with cable operators in other countries.

Here’s an interesting twist for some local governments…  In some cases governments have leased (or even given) access to government land for the installation of the local cable TV headend.  If that’s the case in your jurisdiction, you might want to see where there are any restrictions on subleasing.  If so, then you might want to visit the CTITowers web site to see whether the tower on your land is being offered for sublease.  Better to cut off an permitted use before a sublease contract is signed.



Sprint to Clearwire: Sink or Swim

From the relevant portions of a Sprint news release issued today:

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Business Wire), October 07, 2011 – At its 4G Strategy/Network Vision Update event today in New York, Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) updated the financial community on its plans to accelerate deployment of Network Vision and its plans to roll out 4G LTE on its licensed spectrum. Network Vision, originally announced in December 2010, is Sprint’s plan to consolidate multiple network technologies into one seamless network with the goal of increasing efficiency and enhancing network coverage, call quality and data speeds for customers across the United States.

Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO, said, “Our progress deploying Network Vision enables Sprint to extend and evolve our 4G leadership and to improve the experience for 3G customers. Our next-generation network and cutting-edge device lineup, combined with the industry’s best pricing plans, give Sprint customers the best experience in wireless.”

Sprint will begin a rapid national rollout of LTE on its 1900MHz spectrum.  Sprint plans to launch 4G LTE on its 1900MHz spectrum by midyear 2012 and complete the network build-out by the end of 2013. By the conclusion of 2013, Sprint’s 4G coverage footprint is expected to cover more than 250 million people.

Sprint expects to launch CDMA-LTE devices by mid-2012, with approximately 15 devices coming throughout the year – including handsets, tablets and data cards. Additionally, CDMA-WiMAX 4G devices, like the award-winning HTC EVOTM 4G, Samsung EpicTM 4G Touch and Nexus STM 4G, will continue to be sold throughout 2012.

What was missing from the press release?

Any mention of Clearwire.

Clearwire was positioned for years to be Sprint’s 4G service provider.  Sprint owns more than 50% of Clearwire, but only at arm’s-length.

Now it looks like Sprint has all but abandoned Clearwire to allow that firm to sink or swim on its own.  Sprint has effectively turned into one of Clearwire’s biggest competitors.

Adding insult to injury, Sprint recently inked a deal with LightSquared to allow that firm to come on to Sprint’s Network Vision platform as yet another 4G LTE provider.  LightSquared will also be a direct competitor to Clearwire via its retail outlets, which will in turn compete with Sprint.  If you’re confused, don’t worry: some of these deals don’t make sense, but hey, it’s wireless…

It’s been a tough time for Clearwire, and the times are only getting tougher.

My own experiences with Clearwire, if any indication, do not bode well for the chances for that provider.  Last May I signed up for its business class wireless service, which includes a static IP address (required to run web servers, mail servers, etc.).  When the equipment arrived, I was told that Clearwire had run out of static IP addresses in the Los Angeles area.  I ended up returning the equipment and cancelling the service.  It’s really too bad since their over-the-air speeds were great, beating DSL hands down, and giving Time Warner’s cable modem a real run for the money (and Clearwire’s cost for business grade service is less than half the cost of TW’s Business grade service).

I’m hoping that Clearwire can keep swimming, but there are a lot of sharks in the water starting to circle.