2009 Year in Review: Cloud of skepticism over Clearwire lifts

The news: There was a cloud of skepticism over Clearwire for much of 2009 as analysts said the WiMAX operator needed more money to achieve its buildout goal of 120 million people by 2010 and several of the company's investors wrote off their investments. But November came along and Clearwire confirmed it will be receiving more than $1.5 billion in additional funding. Sprint, which holds a majority percent ownership stake in Clearwire, will contribute the most new funding, with equity financing of $1.176 billion. Comcast will contribute $196 million, Time Warner Cable will add in $103 million, Intel will contribute $50 million, Eagle River will chip in $20 million and Bright House Networks will provide $19 million. Clearwire also said that equity investors have committed approximately $240 million in debt funding. It now has the funds that will enable it to expand its coverage faster, beyond the 120 million people next year.

Moreover, subscriber growth began to accelerate in the third quarter after Clearwire reported a dismal 12,000 net adds in the second quarter. By the third quarter, the operator had 173,000 total mobile WiMAX subscribers, but it didn't break out exactly how many mobile WiMAX subscribers it added in the third quarter alone. In total, it added 44,000 subscribers in the third quarter.

Clearwire's wholesale partners--Sprint, Comcast and Time Warner--also began rollouts in earnest in several of Clearwire's markets, such as Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and North Carolina markets.

Why it's important: Clearwire's success is important on many fronts: to drive down equipment and handheld device costs, offer greater competition on the mobile broadband front and provide a conduit for Sprint Nextel, Comcast and Time Warner Cable to offer service. WiMAX is an important tool for all of these operators, especially the cable operators that are staving off competition from the likes of AT&T and Verizon and their bundled offerings.