Sprint's Hesse: All 4G options include Clearwire

Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) is including Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) and mobile WiMAX in all of its next-generation network plans, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said--comments that appear to refute speculation that Sprint wants to end its wholesale relationship with Clearwire.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecom Conference, Hesse said any option that didn't include Clearwire would be considered extreme.

"Every option that we're looking at, every one includes WiMAX and Clearwire," he said.

While emphasizing that both Sprint and Clearwire have not yet made any decisions on whether or when to launch LTE service, Hesse outlined a number of possibilities, including launching devices with both WiMAX and LTE capabilities. "Does LTE mean no WiMAX?" he said. "No, it doesn't mean that at all. It couldn't be further from the truth." Hesse reiterated that Sprint will announce a decision on LTE before the middle of the year.

Hesse said Sprint and Clearwire are very close to resolving a dispute over wholesale pricing, or the amount Sprint pays Clearwire for the WiMAX-capable smartphones it sells. Sprint owns 54 percent of Clearwire and resells Clearwire's WiMAX service under the Sprint 4G brand.

As part of its Network Vision project, Sprint is currently in the process of testing new, multi-mode base stations that will give it the flexibility to deploy LTE. Sprint will begin deploying those base stations in commercial markets in the second half of this year. Hesse said Clearwire could take advantage of the new base stations via a network-sharing deal with Sprint.

Interestingly, Hesse also left open the possibility of using the new base stations to host other companies' spectrum, similar to a wholesale arrangement. Speaking generally, Hesse said the new base stations do "make it, technically, quite feasible and possible to host other people's spectrum on that core network."

The Sprint chief did not directly address recent market speculation that Sprint will merge with the nation's No. 4 carrier, T-Mobile USA. However, he said Sprint ought to execute its network modernization project before making any major strategic changes--but that the company needs to remain flexible. "One the one hand, you never know in terms of timing and sequencing," he said. "We don't have any magic timetable. Largely it's because you can't predict the future." 

Hesse also said that Sprint will continue to try and differentiate itself from competitors in the growing 4G market through device selection, and hinted at more devices coming soon. "You can expect us to be launching more dual-mode devices at CTIA," he said.

For more:
- see this replay of the Deutsche Bank call

For more:
Sprint, Deutsche Telekom reportedly in talks over T-Mobile USA merger
Sprint could deploy LTE nationwide by year-end 2013
Clearwire: Resolving dispute with Sprint is key to getting more funding
Sprint: Decision on LTE likely in four to six months
Sprint selects network project vendors, will start shutting down iDEN in 2013