Clearwire plans TD-LTE in 31 cities in early 2013
Offers first details about next generation services, as first quarter results show effects of revised deal with Sprint
Published: 30 April, 2012
Clearwire's first quarter revenues reflected the pressures of its transition to a new network, but the US operator was in upbeat mood, announcing the first locations for its TD-LTE roll-out early next year.
The firm is migrating from its WiMAX network to the TDD flavour of LTE, with ambitious plans to move quickly after that to LTE-Advanced. It is focusing on urban centers with high levels of data usage, rather than upgrading its entire WiMAX footprint, and its suppliers Huawei and Samsung are supporting a flexible RAN approach.
The first launches, in the first half of 2013, will come in 31 cities, including New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle. Initially services will be concentrated on 'hotzones' of high data service usage.
In a statement, Clearwire CEO Erik Prusch said: "Clearwire's LTE-Advanced ready network will deploy our deep spectrum resources for the next great era in mobile broadband in which capacity is king. We're positioned to bring much needed capacity on a wholesale basis to address the unbridled demand for mobile data and the scarcity of spectrum in major urban and suburban markets."
Clearwire plans to deploy 5,000 cell sites in the 31 cities, and says capex this year will reach between $350m and $400m. This will hit the books in the second half of the year and is well below previous estimates of about $500m. That will help calm nerves that the carrier will run out of money before it can complete its migration, and suggests Clearwire is concentrating its resources more precisely on hotzones which promise quick returns.
In the first quarter of 2012, Clearwire reported loss of $181.8m, down from $226.9m the year before, on revenue up 36% to $322.6m. its operating loss was $421.9m, compared with $647.4m. However, there was a drop in revenue compared to the fourth quarter of 2011, largely because of a revised wholesale agreement with Sprint, its biggest MVNO and shareholder, for the WiMAX services. Sprint seesawed in its plans for Clearwire during 2011, but has been forced to give its LTE network a larger role since the collapse of the planned network and spectrum deal with LightSquared. However, the CDMA carrier is pulling back from its own WiMAX offerings as it prepares to kick off its own LTE services in June, and recently said it would not launch any new devices for the legacy technology.
Clearwire said in its statement: "For the first time, Clearwire's operating activities provided net cash of $65.7m" during the period, because of payments from Sprint related to Q4 use and an initial payment under the new agreement. The operator ended Q1 with around 11m subscribers, up 80% year-on-year. Most of these users (9.7m) are wholesale subscribers, Clearwire having defocused on its directly branded retail activities in recent times, in order to reduce costs and under pressure from Sprint. While its wholesale business should benefit from the likely demise of rival LightSquared - it has won LTE deals with Best Buy and Leap which were originally destined for that provider - it lost the most important partners after Sprint, cablecos Comcast and Time Warner, to their new deal with Verizon.