Clearwire, Sprint Ink LTE, WiMAX Agreements

By Josh Long Comments
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Clearwire Corp. on Thursday announced reaching agreements with its investor and key wholesale customer Sprint Nextel Corp. over the next four years that are worth up to $1.6 billion.

Clearwire also revealed that it has made interest payments totaling $237 million, putting to rest concerns that the company wouldn't make good on its obligations in order to conserve cash.

Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless provider based on subscribers, has agreed to pay $926 million for unlimited WiMAX retail services over approximately the next two years while gaining access to Clearwire's WiMAX network through at least 2015. Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint said it intends to continue selling WiMAX devices with two-year agreements through at least next year and support such devices through the life of the contracts.

Sprint also has agreed to hand over to Clearwire prepayments of up to $350 million over a period of up to two years for 4G LTE capacity if Clearwire meets "certain build-out targets and network specifications by June 2013."

"In addition, Clearwire and Sprint will work collaboratively to support the ecosystem for TDD-LTE in Band Class 41 for devices, chipsets and standards," the companies announced. "Subject to the timing of the build-out and other factors, Sprint expects to launch devices including laptop cards and phones that will utilize Clearwire’s TDD-LTE network in 2013."

Sprint, which owns 54 percent of Clearwire, also has agreed to provide equity financing on a pro rata basis of up to $347 million if Clearwire raises new equity between $400 million and $700 million.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Clearwire – the operator of a 4G WiMAX network – has been struggling to raise additional financing as it burns through cash, and its relationship with Sprint was questioned when Sprint – Clearwire's largest wholesale customer – revealed plans earlier this fall to move to a new 4G technology, Long Term Evolution.

Clearwire CEO Erik Prusch told Dow Jones the company is continuing to seek more funding and had been in discussion with a number of potential sources.

The agreements announced today could limit speculation that the money-losing Clearwire may run out of cash and be forced to file for Chapter 11 bankrupty protection. As of Sept. 30, Clearwire had on hand $697.8 million in available cash and short-term investments.

Clearwire ended the third quarter with 1.32 million retail subscribers and 8.22 million wholesale subscribers, most of whom are Sprint's 3G/4G smartphone customers. The company expects to serve more than 10 million customers by the end of the year, with most growth deriving from its wholesale business.

Clearwire's stock price was up 30 cents or 16.85 percent to $2.08 on the NASDAQ as of 12:44 p.m. ET Thursday.

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