Sprint (NYSE: S), looking to build a new improved business on 4G wireless broadband, will buy out "some partners" in its Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR) venture, analysts say. The potential move comes as Sprint faces competition from yet another wireless broadband network provider, LightSquared, which is planning a launch next year as a data provider and as the carrier tries to boost sagging business with 4G and prevent other carriers (read T-Mobile) from doing the same--at least with Clearwire networks.
Sprint's cable partners include Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) (9.4 percent ownership), Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC-WI) (4.9 percent) and Bright House Networks (0.9 percent), all of whom have hung their mobile wireless aspirations on Clearwire using WiMAX and roaming onto Sprint's 3G networks.
Sprint owns 56.4 percent of Clearwire--Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) (11 percent), Eagle River Investment (4.1 percent) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) (3.2 percent) are the other investors. But the way the rules work, Sprint can't stop Clearwire from wholesaling its services to other carriers--most prominently mentioned right now is T-Mobile--and that has the wireless carrier concerned.
On the other hand, it might be tough to buy out any of the partners. As mentioned earlier, cable is stuck on Clearwire for its 4G play and, when there's a divorce in any partnership, it's generally cable that initiates proceedings, not the other party. Still, as Oppenheimer analyst Tim Horan points out, "Clearwire is integral to Sprint's turnaround strategy," and that means it has to help itself, not its competition, or, in the case of cable partners, even its so-called friends.
In other Sprint news, the carrier said it has completed transitioning 35 MHz of broadcast auxiliary service (BAS) spectrum into a more efficient spectrum plan in the 2 GHz range.
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