Craig McCaw resigns as Clearwire chairman

Wireless industry pioneer Craig McCaw will resign as chairman of Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), Clearwire said, stepping away from the company he founded as it searches for more financing.     

The mobile WiMAX operator announced the decision, which goes into effect Dec. 31, in a regulatory filing, and said McCaw's resignation did not reflect any disagreement with Clearwire. McCaw said in a statement that he was proud of the company Clearwire has become and that it is on track to create a nationwide 4G network. 

"Today, with a 4G network covering one-third of the U.S. population and serving nearly 3 million customers, including those from some of the leading names in telecommunications, Clearwire is well on its way to realizing that vision," he said in the statement, according to Bloomberg.

Eagle River Holdings, which has a 4 percent stake in the company, will nominate McCaw's replacement on the board, Clearwire said. Eagle River plans to nominate Ben Wolff, who was a co-chairman of Clearwire until early 2009, for the spot.

"Craig McCaw's vision, guidance and influence helped Clearwire develop into the 4G leader the company is today," Clearwire spokeswoman Susan Johnston told Bloomberg. "We thank him for his immeasurable contributions, and believe that Ben Wolff's long affiliation with Clearwire and Eagle River will offer continuity and have an immediate impact at this key point in the company's development."

McCaw's departure comes as Clearwire is considering new funding options, including whether to sell spectrum or seek out a new equity partner. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), which holds a 54 percent stake in Clearwire, said earlier this month it currently has no plans to acquire Clearwire.

Sprint said it continues to discuss with Clearwire whether to provide further investment. Clearwire announced a debt offering of $1.33 billion earlier this month. Sprint said it has not yet decided whether to exercise its rights to buy up to $760 million in convertible bonds; it has until Jan. 2 to do so.

McCaw, 61, got his start in wireless in 1981. He and his brothers purchased spectrum licenses and built the early cell phone giant McCaw Cellular, which they sold to AT&T (NYSE:T) in 1993 for $11.5 billion.

After selling McCaw Cellular, McCaw remained involved in several wireless ventures, including satellite firm Teledesic and Nextel Communications. In 2003, he founded Clearwire, which eventually merged with Sprint's WiMAX business in 2008 to form the "new" Clearwire, and received an infusion of $3.2 billion in capital from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Intel, Comcast and others. Clearwire received a $1.56 billion cash infusion from Sprint and other investors last year, but has continued to need additional capital. 

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.) 
- see this Bloomberg article

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