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11/11/2008
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Clearwire Prepares For Nationwide WiMax Launch

The company and its partners have been testing a mobile WiMax deployment in Portland, Ore., and are preparing to go live with that network early next year.

Preparing for its reincarnation as a partnership with Sprint and other high-tech giants, Clearwire reported its third-quarter financials and said it is intensely focusing on building out its mobile WiMax network.

The company, scheduled to be reinvigorated later this year under its existing name even with a 51% ownership by Sprint Nextel, indicated it deliberately moderated new subscriber signups so it can concentrate on upgrading its existing fixed WiMax network to mobile WiMax.

"We focused our resources on the strategic priorities of preparing our upcoming mobile WiMax markets for launch as well as successfully completing a proof-of-concept network overlay deploying mobile WiMax technology in one of our existing markets during the quarter," Clearwire CEO Benjamin G. Wolff said in a statement Monday. The company signed up just over 8,000 subscribers in the quarter, bringing its subscriber total to 469,000.

Clearwire reported $60.8 million in revenue in the quarter against a loss of $166.6 million. Those figures still speak to its startup status as Sprint and a group of high-tech companies, including Comcast, Google, Intel, and Time Warner, prepare to pump $3.2 billion into Clearwire.

The FCC last week approved Clearwire's new status, which will see Sprint owning 51% of the new Clearwire and Clearwire shareholders owning 27%. The remaining equity will be owned by the other investing high-tech companies. The deal will enable Sprint to focus on its cell phone business, which has been hemorrhaging subscribers, while it shifts several executives to work at the reconstituted Clearwire.

Last month, Sprint launched its first WiMax urban deployment in Baltimore to generally favorable reviews. Clearwire has been testing a mobile WiMax deployment in Portland, Ore., and is preparing to go live with that network early next year. In a conference call following the release of Clearwire's financial report, Wolff indicated the company might be able to use so-called "white spaces" spectrum, which is unlicensed and was approved for free use by the FCC last week.

"We think of it as expanded Wi-Fi," Wolff said. "I think that presents some interesting opportunities for us, and will be looking at how we might leverage it in the rural areas." He noted that Google, its new investing partner, pushed hard for passage of the white-spaces spectrum.

Clearwire said about 3,200 cell sites were "leased and being prepared for mobile WiMax deployment" at the end of September -- more than twice the number available at the same time in the previous year. The new firm's network deployments under development cover some 100 million people.

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