Clearwire’s (CLWR) growth plans are still on: The company, which merged with Sprint Nextel’s (S) WiMax business late last year, said it plans to blanket 80 U.S. markets with 4G service by the end of 2010, covering up to 120 million Americans.
That’s a slightly slower buildout plan than the 120-140 million people it previously announced plans to cover — but not by much. More importantly, it’s not a half-slower buildout plan, or a similarly drastic cut. If it can (finally) stick to its plans, it will maintain its lead on rival Verizon (VZ), which plans to cover 25 to 30 markets with 4G by the end of next year.
Of course, we’ve heard this before. Sprint vowed in 2006 to build out its WiMax network to reach 100 million people by the end of 2008, but it’s currently in just one city — Baltimore. Combined with Clearwire’s network in Portland, the company is reaching less than 10 million people with ‘Clear’ 4G coverage.
Clearwire says it will launch service in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Philadelphia, and Seattle this year; and New York, Boston, D.C., Houston, and the Bay Area in 2010. (Sprint had vowed to launch service in Chicago in 2007.)
How about WiMax gadgets? Clearwire expects 100 mobile WiMax devices on the market by the end of the year, including laptops, netbooks, smartphones, and modems.
We’re bullish on wireless broadband, and with backers/partners including Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), and cable giants Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable (TWC), Clearwire has potential. But it’s going to have to play its game perfectly, as the rest of the wireless industry is lining up under a different technology called LTE. Which means Clearwire could potentially be stuck with second-tier devices — and subscribers could pass it over for service from Verizon or AT&T.
Meanwhile, Clearwire’s existing business is ugly. The company lost $118 million last quarter on $20.5 million of revenue. But none of that matters — Clearwire needs to keep its head down and build out its service as fast as possible, and then figure out how to get people to sign up.