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Clearwire to launch 5K TD-LTE hotspots in 31 markets by June 2013

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WiMAX provider Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) said it will deploy 5,000 of its TD-LTE hotspot sites in 31 top tier markets by June 2013. Those markets include New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle. More cities will be announced at a later date.

Clearwire, which has been collaborating with its largest wholesale customer and majority owner, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), on the deployment, said it still plans to deploy up to 8,000 LTE Advanced-ready sites in total, but these initial 5,000 sites will help wholesale partners like Sprint and Leap Wireless enhance their LTE service without having to use cell splitting technologies in high-usage areas.

Clearwire CTO John Saw said that the company has not yet selected its vendors for its TD-LTE gear but said that the company is planning to purchase that equipment in the third quarter.

The company, which made the announcement in conjunction with its first-quarter earnings, also reported that it added 586,000 total net new subscribers in the first quarter. 

Erik Prusch, president and CEO of Clearwire, touted Clearwire's new retail strategy which is focused on no-contract plans and unsubsidized devices. He said that while the company does expect to see a slight increase in churn in 2012 compared to 2011 because of the no-contract business, he also expects the company's cost per gross add (CPGA) to decline because it's no longer subsidizing devices. The company's CPGA in the first quarter was $242 and the company expects it to be in the $200 range for the full year.

Here's a breakdown of other key metrics for the quarter:

Subscribers: During the quarter Clearwire added 586,000 total net new subscribers. Approximately 537,000 of those are net new wholesale subscribers and 49,000 are net new retail subscribers. This figure is down from 904,000 net wholesale customer adds in fourth quarter of 2011. Clearwire ended first quarter with 11 million total subscribers, which consisted of 1.3 million retail customers and 9.7 million wholesale customers (the majority of its wholesale customers are Sprint 3G/4G smartphone users).

Usage: First-quarter network usage by wholesale customers increased 134 percent compared to first quarter of 2011. Clearwire said most of the usage is coming from smartphone users.

ARPU: Clearwire's retail average revenue per user was $46.83, up from $46.80 in first quarter of 2011.

Churn: Clearwire's retail churn was 3.7 percent, up from 3.3 percent in first quarter of 2011. The company's wholesale churn was 3 percent in the quarter, higher than 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Financials: Clearwire's first-quarter revenue was $322.6 million, a 36 percent increase over the year-ago quarter. Wholesale revenue was $117.8 million, a year-over-year increase of 93 percent over first-quarter 2011 wholesale revenue. First-quarter wholesale revenue does reflect the new WiMAX terms of the November 2011 Sprint wholesale agreement which took effect in 2012. First-quarter 2012 retail revenue and other revenue was $204.8 million.

Adjusted EBITDA in the first quarter was a loss of $38.2 million, a $172.1 million improvement when compared to a first-quarter 2011 EBITDA loss of $210.3 million.

Capital expenditures: Clearwire CFO Hope Cochran said that in conjunction with the finalization of the plans for the 5,000 TD-LTE sites, the company now expects capital expenditures in 2012 to be approximately $350 million to $400 million, $100 million to $150 million lower than expected. Most of the spend will occur in the second half of the year.

For more:
- see this release
- see this release

Special Report: Wireless in the first quarter of 2012

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