2008 Year in Review: Sprint, Clearwire finally tie the knot; WiMAX loses darling designation

After trying to get a deal done since early 2007, Sprint and Clearwire finally hammered out an agreement in mid-2008, this one calling for Sprint's WiMAX business to combine with Clearwire with the help of a $3.2 billion investment by Intel, Google, Time Warner, Comcast, Bright House Networks and Trilogy Equity Partners. After some drama along the way, including opposition from AT&T and a lawsuit from iPCS, the FCC unanimously approved the merger of the two businesses, saying the combination would spur competition in the mobile broadband market and accelerate the buildout of advanced technology.

Still, along the way, mobile WiMAX struggled to be the industry darling. The momentum of LTE (Long Term Evolution) has a lot to do with that. Mobile WiMAX was always supposed to have a head start over LTE, but some are warning that advantage might no longer be an advantage. LTE is expected to be a fully ratified standard by the beginning of 2009 with deployments slated to occur in late 2009 or early 2010. Meanwhile, Nortel and Lucent said this year they were emphasizing WiMAX less and LTE more as the world's major operators move that way.

The bottom line: The new Clearwire has a lot to prove in 2009. Some of the pricing plans that have emerged so far in Baltimore are quite compelling because they allow the operator to attack DSL/cable access, existing mobile broadband services and WiFi hotspots with prices we have yet to see in the market. Moreover, we have yet to see what the cable operator plans are for WiMAX.