Wireless: The Outlook Gets Murkier for Clearwire

BusinessWeek just published my story on what many folks consider broadband’s best hope for injecting more competition in the market for high-speed Internet access.

It’s about Clearwire, the WiMax startup founded by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw. The company has a very bold (and expensive) vision for rolling out fast Internet access through the ether but it’s getting caught up in the credit crunch right now.

Here’s the top of the story:

Last May some of the biggest names in the technology and media business, including Intel (INTC), Google (GOOG), Sprint (S), and Comcast (CMCSA), teamed up to invest $3.2 billion in the startup Clearwire (CLWR). The Kirkland (Wash.) company founded by entrepreneur Craig McCaw had high hopes of shaking up the wireless industry. The idea was that Clearwire would offer an alternative to the two big incumbent U.S. operators, AT&T (T) and Verizon Wireless, by rolling out a technology called WiMAX that could provide superfast Internet service for cell phones, laptops, and other devices.

Today, Clearwire is just trying to keep its head above water. Although sales are on track to rise 50% this year, to $230 million, analysts expect the company will lose $715 million. Billions more in losses are projected for the coming years as Clearwire invests heavily to roll out its network. Clearwire needs to raise billions in additional capital in the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades or it will be forced to slow the pace of its rollout and give AT&T and Verizon a chance to gain ground in the race to build next-generation wireless networks.

Clearwire’s stock has plummeted 90% since its peak in mid-2007. The sharp fall has prompted backers to announce write-offs on their investments, including a $950 million charge by Intel, a $355 million charge by Google, and a $350 million charge by Time Warner Cable (TWC). Comcast is expected to follow suit.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

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