The Rise and Fall of Clearwire

With no inside knowledge, we are still expecting that Thursday’s scheduled Q4/2010 yearly earnings call from nascent national WiMAX provider Clearwire will yield some solid news about the company’s path forward, including a full explanation of the rumors that say Clearwire will ditch retail operations and focus on being a wholesale provider to partners like Sprint, Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

While we have some guesses as to which way things may go — and who may or may not be leaving the company sometime soon — we’ll wait for the official word and report immediately after. (You can also follow us on Twitter, @paulkaps, for off the cuff reactions to the news on the call which starts at 1:30 Pacific Time.) As a public service we present the following timeline with Clearwire historical highlights — please feel free to add your own in the comments.


(An unofficial review of the top events in the history of Clearwire, the provider of a WiMAX 4G network in 71+ markets in the U.S.)

August, 2004 — Clearwire debuts in Jacksonville, Fla. (Though Clearwire’s technology is a proprietary WiMax-like flavor, it is close enough to real WiMax that Clearwire’s planned switch to standards-based gear should not cause undue hardships to the company and its customers.)

October, 2004 — Intel Capital signs on as a Clearwire investor, the first of many WiMax investments from Intel.

May 2005 — Intel and Sprint announced a “joint effort” to advance mobile WiMax, with no mention of funding or investment.

August, 2005 — Sprint and Nextel complete their merger. Most importantly for WiMax, it gives the combined firm the majority of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the U.S., adding spectrum Nextel had previously purchased from MCI/WorldCom and Nucentrix.

June, 2006 — Clearwire floats plans for an IPO, but then pulls back when Intel and Motorola combine to provide Clearwire with $900 million in funding. Intel’s all-cash stake of $600 million is the largest-ever single investment for Intel Capital. Part of Motorola’s $300 million investment share includes the purchase of Clearwire’s NextNet WiMax infrastructure business, making Motorola Clearwire’s biggest hardware provider overnight.

Aug. 8, 2006 — Sprint, Intel, Motorola and Samsung join forces to support Sprint’s plans for a nationwide WiMax network (which would later be called Xohm, pronounced “zome”). Motorola gear will be used in Sprint’s Chicago network, while Samsung will provide infrastructure for Baltimore, Washington D.C. and other East Coast markets.

February, 2007 — Clearwire purchases a large chunk of 2.5 GHz spectrum from AT&T for $200 million, putting nearly all the major-metropolitan airwaves slated for initial WiMax deployments in either Sprint’s or Clearwire’s hands.

March, 2007 — Clearwire, despite racking up almost $200 million in losses for the first nine months of 2006 (versus $76 million in revenue) raises $600 million in a successful IPO, perhaps in no small part due to Wall Street’s affinity for Clearwire chairman Craig McCaw. McCaw, as telecom historians know, became a legend when he sold his cellular business to AT&T in 1994 for $11.5 billion.

July, 2007 — Clearwire and Sprint sign a letter of intent to collaborate on a nationwide WiMax network; the agreement is subject to “definitive agreements” expected to be reached within 60 days.

October, 2007 — Anticipating huge customer and revenue downfalls for its third fiscal quarter, Sprint axes CEO Gary Forsee, a big backer of the company’s WiMax plans.

November, 2007 — Perhaps partially due to Forsee’s departure, Sprint and Clearwire terminate their WiMax letter of intent, saying they “could not resolve complexities” of the agreement.

May, 2008 — Sprint and Clearwire agree to join their WiMax assets into a new venture that will take Clearwire’s name, along with $3.2 billion in new funding from Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google, and others.

September, 2008 — Sprint’s first “Xohm” WiMAX deployment goes live in Baltimore, Md. Initial plans are $25 a month for home service, $30 for mobile service.

November, 2008 — Clearwire/Sprint merger closes, with no change to initial funding plan.

January, 2009 — Clearwire launches its first “Clear” brand services in Portland, Ore. with home modems, USB modems and the “Clear Spot” portable 4G Wi-Fi router.

January, 2009 — Intel writes off $1 billion related to its Clearwire investment; Google writes down $355 million of its investment, with Comcast and Time Warner Cable also writing down their investment stakes.

March, 2009 — Vodaphone veteran Bill Morrow replaces Ben Wolff as Clearwire CEO.

May, 2009 — Cisco and Clearwire announce a WiMAX partnership, with plans for a Cisco-branded “WiMAX device” by the end of 2009. The device never shipped.

June/July, 2009 — Clearwire launches second Clear market in Atlanta, Ga., followed in July by Las Vegas, Nev. Samsung introduces “Mondi” handheld Mobile Internet Device for Clear networks, priced at $450.

August, 2009 — Clearwire announces that it added only 12,000 WiMAX subscribers during the second quarter of 2009.

September, 2009 — Clearwire adds 10 new markets, mainly smaller ones (like Boise, Idaho and several small Texas towns) that previously had Clearwire’s pre-WiMAX service. Chief Strategy Officer Scott Richardson departs the company.

October, 2009 — Clearwire launches services in Philadelphia, the first “major” market to get WiMAX services.

November, 2009 — Clearwire launches services in Chicago and Dallas, the second and third “big” markets for WiMAX. The company reports adding 49,000 WiMAX subscribers during the third quarter.

November, 2009 — Clearwire raises an additional $1.5 billion from original investors Sprint, Intel and Comcast, and another $920 million in debt.

January 2010 — Sprint announces “Overdrive” hybrid 3G/4G mobile Wi-Fi router at CES that uses Clearwire’s network.

February 2010 — Clearwire denies rumors that it is moving to all-wholesale strategy; reports 84,000 new WiMAX subscribers added during fourth quarter of 2009. Reports wholesale numbers for first time, says partners added 46,000 subscribers. Ends fiscal year with 27 live 4G markets, 438,000 4G subscribers.

March 2010 — Clearwire reports its customers use an average of 7 GB of data per month.

March 2010 — Sprint announces HTC EVO 4G, the first WiMAX smartphone, at CTIA. The phone would sell out of its initial run when it goes on sale in June.

May 2010 — Clearwire announces 283,000 new subscribers added during Q1, 111,000 via wholesale channels. Announces plans to launch services in 19 new cities during 2010 plus already announced cities of New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. CEO Bill Morrow also says company will launch two WiMAX smartphones before the end of the year.

June 2010 — Sprint announces the Samsung Epic 4G, the second WiMAX smartphone.

August 2010 — Clearwire adds 722,000 new subscribers, many of them via the EVO sales; the company also reports it is testing LTE services.

October 2010 — Rumors surface that Clearwire is pursuing a spectrum auction to raise money. Company also announces that services will launch in New York on Nov. 1, in Los Angeles on Dec. 1 and in San Francisco before the end of the year.

November 2010 — Clearwire adds 1.23 million subscribers during third quarter, but also announces 15 percent staff layoffs and retail operation slowdowns in order to preserve cash.

December 2010 — Craig McCaw resigns as Clearwire chairman.

February 2011 — ???

About Paul Kapustka

Paul Kapustka is a longtime journalist who has spent more than two decades covering the information technology business, Paul most recently has been focusing on mobility and how it has changed the computing and collaborative landscape. His newest project outside Mobile Enterprise 360 is a research and analysis operation called WiFi Journal. He is also editor in chief of Mobile Sports Report, which covers the intersection of mobile technology and sports business. Paul is also the founder of Sidecut Reports, a research firm that covered the emergence of 4G technology in the cellular marketplace.


  1. Here’s what’s going on around the world with respect to WiMAX:

    The Russian telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor, has allowed Yota and Rostelecom to switch from WiMAX to LTE using the frequencies that the two companies have licensed from the government. Initially, the terms of the license allowed them to use the frequencies only for WiMAX. The regulator’s approval gives both companies the green light to deploy LTE networks.

    If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em (Alvarion goes over to the other side)

    More bad news for WiMAX: Intel closes WiMAX Program Office (the Big Daddy of WiMAX walks away)

    WiMAX Goes Defensive (Jim Baker’s insightful thoughts on where WiMAX is heading)

    Another one bites the dust: Worldmax shuts WiMAX network in Amsterdam (the funeral dirge for WiMAX in the Netherlands)

    Is WiMAX a failure in the UK? (Freedom4, a UK WiMAX operator, sold for peanuts)