Clearwire Mum on Xohm Launches, Says LTE a Possibility

The new Clearwire just concluded its first conference call with analysts and press types, and while some questions did get answered there were more questions raised by the quick interaction, including a declaration that Clearwire might switch from WiMax to Long Term Evolution (LTE) as a technology base sometime in the future.

While declaring mobile WiMax as the best technology currently available for 4G services, Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff said that LTE (which has been embraced by AT&T and Verizon for their respective 4G wireless data plans) will most likely gain some traction, and as such will be considered as a possible future alternative for Clearwire.

“Mobile WiMax and LTE have a lot in common,” said Wolff, who added that Clearwire will build its network infrastructure in such a fashion that will allow the company to move to, or add LTE technology “if we decide it makes sense to do so.”

While such a switch would be at least two or three years in the future, some more immediate Clearwire concerns — including the pending launches of WiMax services in Chicago and Washington, D.C. — were put on hold, at least until the company’s new board of directors can convene for strategic talks. Though Clearwire merger partner Sprint had talked confidently of launching its Xohm-branded services in Chicago and D.C. before the end of 2008, Wolff said Monday that the company didn’t have any launch news to share.

“We need to get together with the new board and walk the board through [the planned network launches],” Wolff said. “Then we can talk about new markets and launching.” Wolff did say during the call that Clearwire would start to add customers to its own mobile WiMax network in Portland, Ore., before the end of the year, with a “full commercial launch” in Portland scheduled for Q1 of 2009.

As we noted earlier, the most concrete change Monday was the switch in service brand names, eliminating Sprint’s Xohm in favor of a new brand name called “Clear.” On the financial side, Wolff said the terms of Clearwire’s new investment of $3.2 billion will remain the same as initially outlined, with share prices for the investment remaining in a range of $17 to $23 per share — well above the Friday closing price of $6.62 per share. According to Wolff the final share price of the investment will be determined within the next 90 days; of most importance to Clearwire is that it will receive the full $3.2 billion initially promised by investors, most of which Wolff said will go toward new network buildouts and operational costs.

Clearwire also said that it will be able to resell Sprint’s 3G cellular services, as part of a dual-mode package for customers who plan to roam outside of Clearwire metro service areas. Wolff said Clearwire would have more information on its dual-mode plans “early next year.” Clearwire did not offer any news about new devices that might be used on its WiMax networks, other than Wolff saying he expected to “see a lot more [WiMax-ready] handheld devices in the 2009 calendar year.”

UPDATE: Time Warner cable says it may offer WiMax services from Clearwire by the end of 2009, or by early 2010, according to this report.

Intel’s Sean Maloney will join the Clearwire board, putting the chip vendor’s biggest WiMax backer close to the heart of its billions in investment. From the release, more of the new board info:

Benjamin G. Wolff will continue to serve as Clearwire’s chief executive officer, and Perry Satterlee continues as the company’s chief operating officer. Sprint’s two most senior WiMAX leaders have joined Clearwire’s management team. Barry West, who served as Sprint’s chief technology officer and XOHM business unit leader, is now president and chief architect of Clearwire, and Atish Gude, formerly senior vice president of Sprint’s XOHM mobile broadband operations, is now senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Clearwire.

Clearwire’s Board of Directors will initially have eight members. Clearwire founder and wireless pioneer, Craig McCaw, is non-executive chairman of the board. Along with McCaw, other directors are Dan Hesse, Sprint’s chief executive officer; Keith Cowan, Sprint’s president, strategy and corporate development; John Stanton, chairman and chief executive officer of Trilogy Equity Partners and former chairman and chief executive officer of VoiceStream and Western Wireless; Sean Maloney, executive vice president, chief sales and marketing officer of Intel; Frank Ianna, former president of network services for AT&T; Jose A. Collazo, former head of BT Global Services and former chairman, president and chief executive officer of Infonet Services Corporation; and Dennis Hersch, former global chairman of mergers and acquisitions for JP Morgan. An additional five seats on the board are expected to be filled in the coming weeks.

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