Sprint Nextel Corporation (S) Hurts Clearwire Corporation (CLWR)’s Q4 Results, But Story Is Bigger

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Clearwire Corporation (NASDAQ:CLWR) has reported a drop in both revenue and subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2012. The broadband player reported revenue of $311.2 million in the fourth quarter, registering a decline of 14%. Retail revenue was down marginally to $194.4 million compared to $197.6 million. However, it was the steep fall of 29% in wholesale revenue to $116.6 million that caused the substantial decline in overall revenue. Despite the lower topline, the company managed to narrow its operating loss to $312.7 million as a result of absence of loss from abandonment of network – a charge which affected Clearwire to the tune of $123 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. Clearwire ended the year with 9.58 million customers, a decline of 8%. The drop was driven by the wholesale segment, which decreased by 9.9% to finish with 8.22 million.

Sprint Nextel Corporation (S)The drop of revenue and customers can be attributed to Sprint Nextel Corporation (NYSE:S) ‘s decision to launch its own LTE network, meaning that the carrier stopped offering WiMAX services to new customers in the last few quarters. The irony of the situation is that Clearwire is suffering because of Sprint’s decision which in turn is aimed at launching a new technology using the wholesaler’s spectrum. Another factor behind the drop is the deal cable networks Comcast and Time Warner signed with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) and Bright House Networks, respectively. The cable companies would have used Clearwire for their mobile offers, but that revenue went to its competitors. However, the revenue foregone would have had a lesser impact than Sprint’s decision.

Clearwire is in something of a fix now as it is currently the target of acquisitions, with both Sprint and DISH Network Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH) making offers for the broadband wholesaler. While Clearwire’s prized spectrum depth and Sprint’s current weak situation with its Nextel brand make for a logical choice, the former is keeping its cards close to its chest. Thankfully, Sprint plans to shut down the iDEN network, but would need Clearwire’s broadband spectrum to roll out its LTE network and achieve its goal of covering an extra 170 cities during the year up from 58 currently covered, with a coverage target of 200 million Americans by the end of 2013. These are daunting numbers and even though the wholesaler hopes to use the 800 MHz spectrum of the iDEN network for its LTE roll-out, extra help from Clearwire would be helpful.

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