Clearwire says Sprint deal will close soon

Cellular pioneer and Clearwire founder Craig McCaw was a featured guest on stage at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2008 show during yesterday's keynote session that celebrated the wireless industry's sensational history. But because that discussion focused primarily on the past, McCaw barely had an opportunity to discuss his current business, Clearwire, which might be of more immediate interest to many in the industry.

Fortunately, Clearwire executives did discuss the company's business conditions and their expectations for the future on Tuesday at the Jeffries Sixth Annual Communications Conference in New York City. There, the company management presented some positive milestones to date for the pending merger of its WiMAX business with that of Sprint Nextel and it asserted confidence that its business model for the next few years is a reasoned one. 

"We believe everything is still on track for a fourth quarter closing and everything is moving right along," John Butler, Clearwire's chief financial officer, told the financial community hungry for the latest on the transaction with Sprint. The company's build-out of infrastructure for its first four mobile WiMAX markets is also on track, and in fact a bit ahead of schedule, Butler said. (In a separate event, Comcast, which is a partner in the new Clearwire, also promised a fourth quarter close.) 

Clearwire has about 1,200 sites in development for its first four markets, which include Atlanta, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore. and Grand Rapids, Mich. Butler did not provide any details or insight into network testing in those markets, except to say the early results are "exceeding expectations."

"As a consequence, we're accelerating the upgrade of our existing markets in 2009 rather than 2010," he said.

As for the merger, Butler reiterated recent statements that the Department of Justice had completed its antitrust review, allowing the merger to proceed, and the company believes it is making good progress at the FCC, where opposition from cellular carriers, particularly AT&T, is still in play. "We hope to be on the [FCC] docket shortly," he said. 

McCaw did say at CTIA that unlike the early days of cellular, when industry pioneers thought growth was slow and painstaking, he believes the growth of the wireless broadband market will move at a much faster, even possibly explosive, pace.

For more:
- See the CNN article.

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