Wireless Internet provider Clearwire has a tough task down the road: Convincing you that you need yet another telco in your life.
But that’s still a year or two out. Today, Clearwire (CLWR) CEO Benjamin Wolff was performing for a different audience, paying a visit to Wall Street to convince investors that his company’s merger with Sprint Nextel’s (S) Xohm WiMax unit, and a multi-billion-dollar cash infusion from the cable industry, Google (GOOG), and Intel (INTC), will help them build a big, successful business.
How big? Clearwire thinks it can sign up 1.3 million subscribers to its WiMax-powered mobile Internet/phone service by the end of next year, 8.5 million by the end of 2011, and 30.8 million by the end of 2017, when thinks it will have an addressable market of up to 220 million people. (For perspective, there are about 250 million wireless subscribers in the U.S. right now.) Clearwire is counting on its wholesale partners — Sprint, Comcast (CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (TWC), etc. — to sell about half those subscriptions. And the company thinks it will be able to get you to spend an average $49 per month for their service next year, and $64 a month by 2014.
That translates to revenues around $13 billion in 2015, with a 39% EBITDA margin and $2.4 billion in free cash flow; and $17.5 billion in sales in 2017, with a 44% EBITDA margin and $3.8 billion in free cash flow.
Can it happen? Sure, anything’s possible. But first Clearwire needs to build its network, get companies to make gizmos for it — like laptop cards, handheld PCs, mobile phones, etc. — and sign up early adopters. And then, in a few years, it’ll have to hold its own in a format war against AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The two biggest U.S. mobile carriers have both backed a competing wireless broadband technology called LTE.
Those investors? Not sold. CLWR is down 2.2% today to $13.15, 63% off its 52-week high, reached last July.