One immediate response to yesterday’s blockbuster $20.1B deal between Softbank and Sprint has been speculation that Clearwire might be next. Indeed, Clearwire’s has gotten a gigantic boost lately, gaining 100% since the middle of last week as traders try to forecast the next move. But there are reasons why nothing is likely to be imminent, foremost of which is the simple question, “What’s the rush?”
Sprint’s existing 49.6% stake in Clearwire means they can take their time, nobody’s going to take it away from them. Likewise, Clearwire is not in any immediate danger and its current TD-LTE buildout plans seem quite compatible with Softbank’s intentions. So why rush into anything before they’ve even filed anything with the regulators for the Sprint deal, let alone gotten a response? The financial markets move so fast these days that sometimes they forget that the real world has its own rhythm that doesn’t get counted in microseconds but rather in quarters and years.
Some are speculating that a bid for MetroPCS is more likely, trying to take away the prize from T-Mobile USA. In that case timing is much more of an issue of course, so if Softbank is interested in both then they’d act on MetroPCS while keeping Clearwire on ice. But I’m not sure Softbank really needs to get into a bidding war for MetroPCS. If anything, adding an integration on top of their rejuvenation plans for Sprint might hurt as much as the scale might help.
But the future of the giant pile of 2.5Ghz spectrum that Clearwire is sitting on will eventually need some attention. While they may not have any immediate plans for it, the obvious potential to bring it in-house when the time is right is clearly a big piece of Softbank’s long term plans for taking on the Verizon and AT&T. It would give them a very deep bench when it comes to raw bandwidth, and perhaps enable the ‘unlimited data’ train to keep on rolling.