All-star team re-ignites national WiMAX venture

Sprint Nextel, Clearwire, Comcast, Google, Time Warner Cable, Intel, Bright House Networks--'nuff said. Those firms--proven telecom industry giants, with the exception of Clearwire (okay, maybe Bright House, too), though Clearwire was founded by industry giant Craig McCaw--are reviving the national WiMAX joint venture that had earlier been pursued by Sprint and Clearwire. They collectively are investing about $3.2 billion in the venture, and the resulting equity breakdown will have Sprint owning 51%, Clearwire 27% and the remaining companies about 22%. Some sort of teaming between Sprint, Clearwire and the cable TV companies had been rumored for some time, since before the cable TV firms recently executed their Pivot partnership with Sprint. Google had been rumored to have interest as well.

Some observers are already seeing the joint venture as a master-stroke by Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and a move that could help save seriously damaged Sprint. However, there also have been rumors this week that Sprint could sell Nextel, and/or that Sprint itself could be acquired by Deutsche Telekom, so there could be more moves yet to play out. Or maybe not. In any case, other observers see the new mega-venture as a huge benefit to Clearwire, which previously has been modestly successfully at expanding broadband fixed wireless into a few dozen markets, but now gains huge investors and partners for what would have been its next move--a WiMAX upgrade. And, oh yeah, the new venture will be called Clearwire, so essentially, McCaw has sold the telecom industry its future for the second time in his career.

Sprint and Clearwire both will benefit from this super-venture, but what about Google? The Internet giant has had a good week that is only half over. First, it watched Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo!--the best bet for either company to mount a better competitive assault against Google--fall apart. Now, it is buying itself a piece of the wireless future, but will pay much less for it, and will take on less risk, than it would have if it bought its own spectrum and built its own network. And yet, it will have a major hand in shaping an open 4G network. Google may be the biggest winner.

For more:
- read this story at The Wall Street Journal
- here's what Om Malik is saying at GigaOM

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