Clearwire investors are pumping in another $1.5 billion into the venture to help pay for the company's nationwide 4G wireless network, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The article cites two unnamed sources "familiar with the matter," who said that Sprint Nextel, Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks have all agreed to contribute an additional $500 million to the cause. Google, which had initially invested with these other companies, is not participating in this funding round, the article said.
Sprint and these other partners invested about $3.2 billion in Clearwire about 18 months ago when a new joint venture was developed to build the Clearwire network.
In addition to cash, Sprint also gave Clearwire access to its 2.5 GHz spectrum. Sprint, Comcast, and Time Warner have already begun reselling the Clearwire WiMax service in areas where Clearwire has already built its network.
Clearwire now offers service in several cities including Baltimore, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
There is little doubt that consumers' appetite for faster wireless speeds is growing. But Clearwire is building its network using WiMax technology while its major competitors, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, have chosen to use a competing technology known as LTE or Long Term Evolution.
Verizon is already building its LTE 4G network and will have commercial deployments in 2010. AT&T plans to continue upgrading its 3G network with newer technology, but has said it eventually plans to move to LTE. Most other major wireless operators around the world have also settled on using LTE for their next generation networks.
Clearwire does have a good head start in terms of deployments. But it's unclear if that will be enough to beat competitors, such as Verizon Wireless, in the long run.
But in order for Clearwire to even have a chance in competing with Verizon and AT&T, it will need a fully built nationwide network. And that takes a lot of money; money that Clearwire is spending very quickly. As of the second quarter of 2009, Clearwire had projected a cash burn of $1.5 billion to $1.9 billion for 2009. The company said in August it had burned through $646 million of its cash. But as it spends money, the company is also losing money. For the second quarter, Clearwire announced a net loss of $73.4 million on revenue of $63.6 million.
Clearwire will report third quarter earnings on Tuesday.
The Google factor
Google's decision not to invest in the next round of investment could be an indication that the search giant is losing faith in the technology. In a recent interview with CNET News, Andy Rubin, who heads up Google's mobile operating system division, said Google is planning its mobile future around LTE and not on WiMax.
That said, a Google spokesman told Reuters that the company still supports Clearwire's efforts to build a high-speed wireless network using WiMax. But the spokesman said the best way for Google to offer support is through product and strategic cooperation rather than investing more money.
Google also recently announced a strategic partnership with Verizon Wireless. The companies worked closely to launch a new 3G wireless Android device called the Droid. And the two companies will likely work closely to develop other new products and services on Verizon's new 4G network.
By contrast, Clearwire's other investors have far too much at stake now to abandon the network and the WiMax technology.
Intel has been a big backer of WiMax from the beginning. And the company has already invested millions of dollars in developing products. Sprint has also bet big on the WiMax technology, and the company is too far down the WiMax path to completely drop it. The cable companies Comcast and Time Warner, which are reselling Clearwire's service to their cable customers, have no other choice at this point, but to stick with the WiMax plan. The last thing these companies want to do is build their own wireless network, and they desperately need a wireless broadband service to compete with their phone company rivals.