Clearwire, Sprint Settle Wholesale Pricing Dispute with $1B Deal

4/19/11Follow @curtwoodward

Troubled 4G wireless network operator Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR) had some positive news today, reporting that it and majority shareholder Sprint had resolved a dispute over wholesale pricing. Sprint (NYSE: S) will pay at least $1 billion over the next two years for use of Clearwire’s service, the companies said in a joint statement.

Interim Chief Executive John Stanton told the Wall Street Journal that the cash allows Clearwire to “operate efficiently over the next couple of years” and plan for expansion. Stanton took over the CEO’s job last month, after Bill Morrow and two other top officers left the Kirkland, WA-based company. Clearwire said at that time that it believed an agreement with Sprint was imminent. Clearwire founder and longtime wireless leader Craig McCaw resigned as chairman a few months back, and late last year Clearwire reported that it was cutting 15 percent of its workforce.

The deal announced today gives Clearwire $300 million this year, $550 million next year, and a $175 million prepayment to allow Sprint continued access to Clearwire’s 4G services. The two companies also said they have an agreement for Sprint phones that operate both on Sprint’s 3G network and Clearwire’s 4G system.

Stanton also declined to comment when asked by the WSJ whether Clearwire was discussing a possible takeover by Sprint, and said Clearwire would need more money if it decides to expand its 4G network to include a second type of technology, known as Long-Term Evololution or LTE. He did say Clearwire’s current investors, which also include Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Intel, may be interested in helping.

Clearwire’s current network is based on a technology called WiMax, but the company has tested LTE systems, and said it is “technology agnostic.” LTE is more widely used by other wireless companies.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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