Well, the traders were apparently both right and oh so wrong about Sprint’s plans for Clearwire. In the wake of the Softbank deal announcement, reports this morning have Sprint moving to take control of Clearwire by simply boosting their ownership stake above 50%.
Supposedly they are buying a 4.5% stake from Eagle River, which will give them majority control of the wholesale WiMAX and soon-to-be LTE protagonist. Apparently they sniffed at the doors of a few other stakeholders like Intel and Comcast before finding Eagle River willing, and the filing may reach the SEC by today. No need to buy up Clearwire outright, at least not yet.
What this seems to do is to effectively keep decisions about different plans for Clearwire’s spectrum on ice, making it unnecessary to make any rash moves with the Softbank deal still requiring a couple of quarters at least to come to fruition. I had recently argued that there was no need for haste, since Sprint’s 48+% stake gave them enough oomph to have the same effect. But this is quite elegant as well, and doesn’t cost them that much.
Of course, as majority owner they’ll be more directly in charge of Clearwire’s TD-LTE rollout. Hence, the next question is whether they will put money in to get that started now or wait until Spring. My guess is that they’ll have Clearwire take another swing at raising money itself in light of the drastic shift the Softbank deal represents.
Besides, what may happen here is that Softbank will wind up with both separate wholesale and retail LTE arms, promising the FCC to continue with wholesale plans for Clearwire’s huge 2.5Ghz spectrum in order to avoid the potential criticisms around owning ‘too much’ spectrum that regulators have been tossing around in regards to Verizon and AT&T.