Clearwire Hits 6 Million Subscriber Mark

Apparently the death of WiMAX has been greatly exaggerated as national nascent WiMAX provider Clearwire announced Wednesday that it has broken through the 6-million subscriber mark and expects to have more than 9 million 4G customers on its network by year end.

Though nobody is expecting Clearwire to overtake cellular giants like AT&T or Verizon Wireless anytime soon, its first-mover status in the world of U.S. 4G wireless services continues to pay off in solid subscription adds, with an additional 1.8 million subscribers added during the first three months of 2011 according to the company. With almost all of those (1.6 million) being wholesale subscribers, Clearwire seems well on its way toward becoming almost completely a wholesale-services provider, a strategic shift that has been underway since about last fall. Right now, Clearwire has 6.15 million total subscribers on its 4G network, with 1.29 million retail subscribers and 4.86 million wholesale customers. Clearwire now expects to finish the year with 9.5 million subscribers, up from 8.8 million it had predicted three months ago.

One interesting note from the call was the fact that Clearwire said its network usage has increased 40 percent since the start of the year, due to several reasons including some big market fourth-quarter launches as well as “higher usage per device.” Though Clearwire didn’t provide an update to a number it talked about last year — an average monthly user statistic of 7 GB downloaded per month — a 40 percent increase in that number could put the average Clearwire user demand at 9.8 GB per month.

With the company’s recent wholesale-pricing dispute with Sprint now resolved and some additional cash in the bank, Clearwire is somewhat out of the financial woods, as CFO Hope Cochran said the company has enough cash on hand to fund operations for at least 12 more months, and that Clearwire still expects to reach a level of profitability sometime next year. The $1 billion of incoming Sprint funding also means that Clearwire doesn’t have to force any sale or lease of its treasure trove of wireless spectrum anytime soon, with Clearwire now saying it doesn’t expect to need to do a spectrum sale during 2011.

While Clearwire didn’t break out its wholesale numbers by partner, the company did say that Sprint 4G customers represent the predominant share of the wholesale numbers. So for 4G phone-market watchers that means that as an upper range Sprint could have sold almost 1.6 million 4G smartphones during the first quarter of 2011, a solid figure compared to the 2.2 million iPhones and 260,000 4G LTE HTC ThunderBolt phones sold by Verizon Wireless during the same timeframe.

Clearwire interim CEO John Stanton also said on the conference call that Clearwire has appointed a committee to conduct a nationwide search for a new permanent CEO.

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