Clearwire to sink from sight/site

clearwire_sinking(Updated 4:41 p.m.; added AGL Magazine story link.)

Well, it’s almost over.   Clearwire, that is.

Clearwire will sink from site, er, from sight as SoftSprint (or someone else depending on the investor law suits will will claim insufficient value to be paid by Sprint) ponies up the relatively small bucks to buy the rest of Clearwire that Sprint doesn’t already own.

So Clearwire’s WiMax is dead.  Clearwire’s shift to LTE is dead.  Clearwire’s microwave sites will soon be dead.

Clearwire is all but dead.  The corpse is worth more dead, mainly if not entirely because of the FCC’s spectrum licenses it presently owns…and soon will transfer.  My gut says that the existing sites are mostly useless expect for some possibility of site-to-MTSO backhaul.

I bet Google’s sorry it jumped ship in February of 2012, receiving only $1.60 for each of its 29 million shares (something greater than a 90% loss on its original investment).  With the current buyout at $2.97 per share, that’s nearly $40m that Google would have relieved had it not jumped early.  Still quite a loss over what they paid for the shares originally, but $40m is still a lot of money for Google…like a couple of hours of revenue.  Okay, maybe Google won’t care so much.

Expect that if you are negotiating with Clearwire now, those negotiations will freeze.  The REALLY cold freeze.

A lot of Clearwire site landlords should expect the ‘really bad news’ letter in about 6 months or so.  If Sprint wins control of all of Clearwire, and it’s true to form, then they’ll offer landlords sucker deals to take on the liability for the non-removal of portions of Clearwire’s equipment.  (See my posting on this subject HERE.)

AGL Magazine has good story coverage with quotes, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.

Another one bites the dust.




Might Apple buy Sprint?

Okay, it sounds wild, but let’s look at this for a bit…

Sprint has committed $15B to Apple in connection with securing rights to market the iPhone to Sprint’s subscribers (let’s not talk about the newest Apple product, the iHeatingPad). That’s a lot of cash, and I’ll bet that Apple’s contract leave virtually no room for Sprint to get out from under the weight of an 800 pound Apple.

At the same time, the $9B Sprint was expecting from LightSquared seems to drifted away. This raises very serious questions about the future of Sprint’s touted Network Vision upgrade. As a result, Sprint’s plans to shutter some 30,000 cell sites, relying on the Network Vision project to make it possible…must have dropped to ‘maybe’ status, too.

Clearwire. That word has turned into a blackhole of cash for Sprint, and Google just helped further devalue Sprint’s, ah, majority investment by dumping the Google-held shares at a 90% write off. WiMax is not Sprint’s path forward–LTE is. Clearwire may be too late to Sprint’s party.

Sprint’s Board of Directors last month vetoed Dan Hesse’s plan to buy MetroPCS (for a 30% premium, no less). That puts Dan Hesse’s future outlook at Sprint at a 30% deficit (others say that number is even worse). Will there be new blood on the head of the pin, much less new confusions over the direction the pin is pointing? Hey, how about T-Mobile buying MetroPCS?

This month, Sprint seems to have tried…and failed…to get a network sharing agreement with T-Mobile, according to the Wall Street Journal. I guess that shots a hole in my idea about a SprinT-Mobile merger.

Let’s not forget the grandest of Sprint’s Grand Experiments: Nextel. Oh, you want to forget about that? Likely Sprint does, too.

With research firm Sanford Bernstein dropping its rating on Sprint, citing that Sprint might visit BK land, the Bad News Band keeps marching on. For a thoughtful look at this particular issue, see the SeekingAlpha story of March 20th by clicking here.

Now let’s consider Apple.

Apple has attained the status of a ‘mythical creature’ that can seemingly devour all that blocks it path.

Apple has been fanatical about controlling, to the n-th degree, every element of its users experiences with all of the Apple devices. It controls the look and feel of the user experience, and via the App Store all of the applications on iPhones that have not been subject to a jailbreak, as well as iPads of various operating temperatures.

It must peeve Apple that it decided to confine its iPhone and iPad devices originally on an exclusive basis to AT&T to run on that carrier’s less-than-robust and less-than-adequate-capacity network, and one that actually gave up spectrum in the failed T-Mobile love affair.

Now, at least, Verizon subscribers have a better chance at being able to enjoy close to 3G speeds with their iSomethings.

Oh, yes, there’s that cash reserve thing for Apple. It’s sitting on more cash than the U.S. Treasury, and since last Summer it has been the most valuable company you’ll find in the U.S., and maybe anywhere in the entire galaxy.

If Apple thinks about it, it can have its cake and eat it, too: Buy Sprint, fund and complete Network Vision, deploy 4G at real 4G speed, and dump all of the Sprint phones save for Apple iSomethings. Using the software defined radios of Network Vision, Apple can actually build a wireless network that is optimized for data (but still including the voice app that defines LTE). Siri may be the first step to Skynet, albeit with a programmed sense of humor. (How much wood can a woodchuck chuck? See here.)

For Apple, a Sprint purchase would yield it monthly cash flow that can be put back into expanding and optimizing the “Apple Wireless” Network Vision. And given Sprint’s majority ownership in Clearwire (and the 106ish MHz Clearwire controls in the U.S.), Apple would have a real playground to expand data capacity and speeds.

Maybe Apple might make apply the principles of the iTunes Store to Sprint to shift the marketing of Sprint services to the faceless online monolith. Buy a phone and activate service online. Forget about pins dropping.

It just seems right for Apple to continue its quest to control everything its users see and do with the iSomethings now and in the future by controlling its own data delivery network. At the same time, it can keep feeding iSomethings to Verizon, AT&T, and any other carrier that can’t afford to be left in Apple’s iDust.

With the passing of Steve Jobs, the direct minutia-level control he seemed to exert on Apple (at least according to Isaacson) has also passed. This may free up the current management of Apple to take the leap (no, not Leap Wireless) to controlling even more of the user experience, but from a new distance, all without asking “WWSD?”

Of course, Apple might buy T-Mobile instead–or as well–and do more or less the same thing, but that’s a thought best left for a future post.


As LightSquared Fades, What of Sprint?

As you likely know, the NTIA’s Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, Lawrence E. Strickling  gave LightSquared a big, fat, wet Valentine’s day kiss when he wrote to FCC Chairman Genachowski saying, “…we conclude that LightSquared’s proposed mobile broadband network will impact GPS services and that there is no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time.”

You can read the full letter, which goes downhill from the quote above, by clicking on this link:  NTIA Letter to FCC Regarding LightSquared: Feb. 14, 2012.

While everyone else is talking about LightSquared, I’m wondering about the impact of the likely LightSquared disappearance from the arena on Sprint.  Just last June, Sprint and LightSquared announced that they had entered into a 15-year agreement for Sprint to promote LightSquared as its 4G solution (hey, does anyone remember a company called ClearWire who was promoted by Sprint to be its 4G solution?  I’m just ask’n…).

Under the Sprint deal, LightSquared was to pay $9 billion dollars and give Sprint another $4.5 billion in credits for LTE and satellite services.  Shortly thereafter, Sprint kicked the Network Vision project into high speed.

Side note 1: Network Vision, for those of you who have not yet seen the vision, ahem, is Sprint’s project to replace its BTS cabinets that do one thing on one band with shiny new BTS cabinets that can be easily adapted to provide multiple services on multiple bands at the same time.   That’s actually a smart thing from an engineering perspective, but it sure looks like Sprint was betting on LightSquared’s payments to fund a good portion of Network Vision.

Side note 2: The Network Vision project is connected with Sprint’s recently-announced plan to shutter 30,000-ish of its current leases as the new multiband BTS cabinets go in.  Shuttering that many site leases should save Sprint something on the order of $400 million per year, and make cell site landlords wary of entering into new leases that don’t have early termination fees (huh? Your lease doesn’t?  Too bad; so sad.)

So, what’s next for Sprint?  Certainly it has wisely given up on WiMax as a real, long term 4G solution.  It looks like everyone agrees that LTE is the real answer, so the sinking of LightSquared’s ship is hardly likely to re-float ClearWire’s boat in Sprint’s eyes (or any other sets of eyes for that matter).  Since Sprint recently missed out on the “Buy Your Next Band From The Cable TV Guys” deals, its even farther down the spectrum rabbit hole.  Sprint needs frequencies, and it needs them last week.

This brings me full-circle back to an earlier blog post, from last September, when I mused on the idea that Sprint and T-Mobile would make a mighty fine look’n couple, and I even worked up a possible wedding announcement:

See: SprinT-Mobile?

T-Mobile has kept a nice dowry of cash (and better, spectrum) from when the DOJ forced AT&T to leave T-Mobile at the alter.  So like Sprint, T-Mobile has a pressing need to get married.  If not to each other, then to others, but marriages are on the horizon.

See you at the wedding(s).  I’ll be at the bar.



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 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.)



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.




When (Wireless) Worlds Collide…Will Site Landlords Get $quashed?

Today’s (4/15/11) AGL Bulletin carries a buried-lead story about Sprint’s deployment of new, flexible base stations that are multi-modal, multi-band, and potentially multi-user.

Faced with Data Surge, Carriers to ‘Feed the Beast’ with Base Station Innovation

Noting the importance of scale, spectrum and innovation, representatives of Sprint Nextel and Clearwire discussed how the growth of wireless data traffic must result in the complete modernization of cell site equipment on a panel on March 22 in Orlando, Fla. They spoke at the Raymond James Breakfast, which was moderated by Ric Prentiss, managing director at Raymond James & Associates.

“We must keep feeding the beast, or we are just going to turn our customers away. We must innovate around the cost. Technology allows it,” said Iyad Tarazi, vice president, network development and engineering, Sprint Nextel. The carrier expects 10x growth every three years for the foreseeable future.

The challenge for Sprint Nextel is to keep up with the pace in a cost-effective manner. To do so the carrier has unveiled Network Vision, which is a blueprint for enhancing data speeds by consolidating multiple network technologies into one, seamless network.

Today, Sprint uses separate equipment to deploy services at 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and, through Clearwire, 2.5 GHz. The Network Vision concept features the use of software to bring together multiple spectrum bands on a single, multimode base station.

“The technologies that we are deploying in the Network Vision project allow us to modernize our cell sites in a way that gives us a lot of flexibility with the types of technologies we put on it,” Tarazi said. “In the future, with the Network Vision project, we will build spectrum at 40 megahertz to 60 megahertz at a time, and we will build it once.”

The Network Vision project will play a role in increased network sharing, according to John Saw, chief technology officer, Clearwire, which has been sharing networks for some time with Sprint Nextel on a limited basis at sites. Saw envisions much more sharing in the future because of the benefits in cost, time, speed and flexibility.

“One of the things we are excited about, looking at network sharing, is that you actually get to leverage all of these capabilities for customers,” Saw said. “That buys us time. That buys us some cost savings with the leases and some of the common services that we share with Sprint. The Network Vision project brings network sharing to a whole new plateau.”

Network sharing, according to Saw, means virtually all of the physical components of the base station can be used by multiple carriers, including the radio, the backhaul, the access equipment, the utilities and other services.

“The key difference with network sharing is being able to share the radio at the network level. In the past, it was mostly cell site sharing. If we are able to share the same floor space, the same common equipment, the same switching, the same backhaul, potentially even the same radio where you can run multiple technologies, that’s what we’re talking about,” Saw said.

In interview with AGL Bulletin, Ted Abrams, president, Abrams Wireless, reacted to statements made at the session, applauding the move toward network sharing saying network operators will be able to increase overall efficiency of bandwidth and infrastructure through the new technology.

“Multi-modal equipment connected to big backhaul pipes can transport payload from end users through the cloud across retail platforms branded differently,” Abrams said. “Most of the attributes of a wireless network are fungible, readily adapted to exchange on par. Antenna physics and other band-specific requirements continue to require consideration. As infrastructure providers are able to increase the density of sites supporting these new technologies, the rate of broadband deployment can be accelerated.”

As an attorney representing wireless site owners (landlords), the question that instantly comes to my mind is this: As Sprint deploys it’s wireless upgrade, how will ‘electronic collocations’ be accounted for in legacy wireless leases?


Go back now and carefully reread the following excerpt from the AGL Bulletin report, above:

The Network Vision project will play a role in increased network sharing, according to John Saw, chief technology officer, Clearwire, which has been sharing networks for some time with Sprint Nextel on a limited basis at sites. Saw envisions much more sharing in the future because of the benefits in cost, time, speed and flexibility.

“One of the things we are excited about, looking at network sharing, is that you actually get to leverage all of these capabilities for customers,” Saw said. “That buys us time. That buys us some cost savings with the leases and some of the common services that we share with Sprint. The Network Vision project brings network sharing to a whole new plateau.”

Network sharing, according to Saw, means virtually all of the physical components of the base station can be used by multiple carriers, including the radio, the backhaul, the access equipment, the utilities and other services.

“The key difference with network sharing is being able to share the radio at the network level. In the past, it was mostly cell site sharing. If we are able to share the same floor space, the same common equipment, the same switching, the same backhaul, potentially even the same radio where you can run multiple technologies, that’s what we’re talking about,” Saw said.

Okay, back to reality for landlords.

Historically, savvy landlords have received incremental income from collocations and their tenants sublease to other wireless providers.

In Sprint’s future world of electronic collocation, site landlords won’t know when Sprint has subleased a portion of the use of the site to another company. Legacy leases don’t usually specify that collocation must be ‘physical’ in nature, so those same savvy landlords (and I assure you, their attorneys, including yours truly) are likely to reasonably take the position that that if Sprint has subleased the electronic use of a wireless site to another, then that revenue should be shared with the site landlord pursuant to the existing lease agreement.

Landlords and their attorneys should be on the lookout for proposed lease amendments for legacy sites and sublease terms in new leases that might try to draft around this $$multimillion dollar issue$$.


Clearwire to Present at Citi 21st Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference

Clearwire’s CFO will, no doubt, have some important things to say about Clearwire’s UNCLEAR financial future when he presents next week at Citi’s 21st Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference. Details below are from Clearwire’s press release.  I’ll bet Sprint’s investment and finance people will be very interested in what’s said!

Clearwire to Present at Citi 21st Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference
KIRKLAND, Wash., Dec 30, 2010 (GlobeNewswire via COMTEX) —

Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR) today announced that its Chief Financial Officer, Erik Prusch, will speak at the Citi 21st Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, at 5:05 p.m. MT on January 4, 2011.

Interested parties are invited to register in advance at in order to listen to the live audio webcast presentation. A replay will be available one hour following the event until April 6, 2011.


No Clear Path for Clearwire

Clearwire is undergoing a capital squeeze that may leave it unable to continue as an ongoing business.  The issues that face the company are clearly set out in its most current SEC 10Q report (dated 11/4/10), which contains this passage:

Liquidity Issues

We are at an early stage of implementing our business strategy. Since formation, we have invested significantly in our business and experienced substantial losses from operations and negative cash flows. During the first nine months of fiscal 2010, we incurred $1.55 billion of net losses. We utilized $840.8 million of cash in operating activities and spent $1.96 billion for capital expenditures in the development of our network. We do not expect our operations to generate positive cash flows during the next twelve months.

As of September 30, 2010, we had available cash and short−term investments of approximately $1.38 billion. Based on our current projections, we do not expect our available cash and short−term investments to be sufficient to cover our estimated liquidity needs for the next twelve months. Without additional financing sources, we forecast that our cash and short−term investments would be depleted as early as the middle of 2011. Thus, we will be required to raise additional capital in the near−term in order to continue operations. Further, we also need to raise substantial additional capital over the long−term to fully implement our business plans.

We are actively pursuing various initiatives aimed at resolving our need for additional capital. We are in discussions with a number of our major shareholders and other third parties about a number of options, including  potential strategic transactions, additional debt or equity financings and/or asset sales. A special committee of our Board of Directors has  been formed to explore strategic alternatives, including transactions that may involve a sale or other realignment of the ownership and governance of our company.  Additionally, at the same time, we are holding discussions with various parties with respect to securing additional  financing. Any financing transaction would likely include selling additional equity or debt securities issued by us or our domestic or international subsidiaries. Any additional debt financing would increase our future financial commitments, while any additional equity financing would be dilutive to our stockholders. Our ability to raise sufficient additional capital in the near and long−term on acceptable terms, or at all, remains uncertain. Lastly, we believe that the fair market value of our spectrum portfolio exceeds our outstanding liabilities and that a portion of our spectrum is not essential to our business. Thus, we have initiated a process whereby we are seeking bids to potentially sell the excess  spectrum assets to raise additional funds to continue to operate.  However, the process is at an early stage, and there can be no assurance that we will be able to sell a sufficient
amount of spectrum on terms acceptable to us.

We are also actively pursuing a number of initiatives intended to reduce costs and conserve cash, including: suspending development activities for sites not required for our current build plan; delaying the launch of new end user devices such as Clear branded smartphones; substantially reducing sales and marketing spending; making reductions to discretionary capital projects; substantially reducing the number of contingent workers and reducing our employee numbers by approximately 15%. We currently have thousands of sites in various stages of planning and construction beyond our current build
plan, and we intend to suspend zoning and planning in a portion of those sites. These contemplated initiatives are intended to result in potential cost savings of between $100 million to $200 million in 2010 and again in the first half of 2011. However, we may not realize the full amount of savings we expect as a result of these initiatives. Even if these initiatives do result in the anticipated cost savings, we will still be required to obtain sufficient additional capital.

Our ability to continue to operate our business is substantially dependent on our ability to raise additional capital in the near term. As discussed above, we are actively pursuing a number of possible funding options, but there can be no assurance that these efforts will be successful. Our expected continued losses from operations and the uncertainty about our ability to obtain sufficient additional capital raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.

Clearwire’s next steps are outlined, but it is far from clear that this technology firm will continue in business, or continue as it currently exists.

The impact on Clearwire site landlords cannot be overstated.  If Clearwire goes into bankruptcy, site landlords without specific lease protections may find themselves out of rent, and out of luck for months or years, any may only collect a percentage of rent due, if any.

These are trying times for Clearwire; hopefully the firm will survive and provided needed competition in the wireless arena.

If you would like to read the entire 10Q report, you can do so by clicking here:  Clearwire Corporation’s SEC 10Q Report dated 11-04-2010 (PDF format).


Oops! Clearwire 4G Launch in Los Angeles.

…at least their press release says that Clearwire is launching real soon now.

My sources inside Clearwire tell me that the network is already up and running in portions of the L.A./Orange County market right now, and available via Sprint’s 4G phones and Clearwire dongles, but that Clearwire is rushing to get sites on-air to fill in coverage holes.

I just received my first Clearwire mailing.

Click on the image below and take a look at Clearwire’s offer at the bottom of the left panel.  Then compare that offer with the one in the right panel.

You’ll see why this mailer is a marketer’s (or proofreader’s) worst nightmare!

It Hulps too prufreed teh ofer bfore printng it.(Click on the image to enlarge it to full size. Then spot the oops!)

I suspect many tens-of-thousands of flyers went out this way.

If Clearwire’s flyer was a menu, I think I’ll order off of the right side!

Check please.

(Okay, some legal stuff: CLEAR, the CLEAR logo and Clear Spot are trademarks or registered trademarks of Clearwire Communications LLC.)