Posts tagged ‘Sprint’
It’s been quite awhile since I looked in on Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR), and their big bet on WiMax. Frankly, not much has changed. I believed back then—and do even now—that WiMax is a technology solution that’s somewhat overhyped.
Clearwire is still spending money. Intel is still touting it. So is Google. Meanwhile, WiMax is enjoying adoption primarily in emerging markets that have little entrenched infrastructure. In the U.S.? Not so much. The recent macroeconomic environment can’t have been good for CLWR, as it needs capital to maintain any lead it has on incumbent cellular providers. Meanwhile, LTE is starting to come on board with the latter, and large-scale deployments are not far behind.
WiMax may find its niche—at least in the U.S. — as more of a backhaul technology for wireless clouds (LTE or WiFi) owned by the large incumbent wireless carriers than anything else. We’ll see.
The efforts of Sprint (NYSE: S) and CLWR is all that’s kept WiMax afloat here. It still looks a bit like Clearwire sold a self-serving bill of goods to Sprint, who has long been desperate for a magic bullet to solve its subscriber defection problems.
Here, you try it. No way, I’m not gonna try it, you try it. Hey, let’s give it to Mikey. He won’t adopt WiMax, he hates everything. Hey Mikey! He likes it!
Check out the chart on the right, courtesy of Gridstone Research.
Since eloping with Sprint’s network business, Clearwire has managed revenue growth of 19% year-over-year, based on 2008 pro forma numbers and 2009 actuals. However, in that same span costs have swollen by 27%. As a result operating income has dropped by 29% (from a negative number, mind you). Just the spectrum fees that Clearwire pays amount to 95% of its revenue.
Wait, let me guess. They’re going to make it up on volume.
So besides shorting CLWR, is there any way to play this puppy? As a matter of fact, there is. No matter what happens between WiMax and the other competing technologies, cellular firms will need increasing capacity on their backhaul links. The iPhone and Android have seen to that. For some, fiber will come to the rescue. For others, a wireless solution is the only one that makes sense to boost backhaul bandwidth. (Holy alliteration, Batman!)
And the clear leader in wireless backhaul is one of my favorites, Ceragon Networks (NASDAQ: CRNT), who coincidently just announced a new solution at the CTIA conference on March 23rd. Sure, competitor Dragonwave (NASDAQ: DRWI) has come on strong in the last year, but they’re still too strongly tied to Clearwire, who is responsible for the lion’s share of DRWI’s business. Ceragon is more balanced, having a number of large customers–including last year’s addition of Hutchison 3.
Either way, marrying Clearwire to Sprint is like a perfect storm. A technology with limited utility serving as the foundation for a network with limited subscribers.
Disclosure: I hold no position, either long or short, in any stocks mentioned here. However, I do receive limited free service from Gridstone Research, in return for mentioning them when I use data from their site.
Who benefits the most from the recently announced Sprint/Clearwire deal? It may not be who you think.
This massive ($3.2B) infusion of money seems like a lot, but it’s just the beginning for this boondoggle. WiMax is a nice technology that works in some circumstances, with the right business model. But then so will WiFi, and it’s much cheaper. Besides, the mobile providers have a huge head start. Why buy new cards and sign a new contract when I already have what I need from my cell phone (or hotspot) provider?
In terms of becoming a successful business, WiMax is vying for the “most hyped” award with social networks. Expect more bags of money to be tossed into the trough before long.
So who gets what?
Sprint (S) – Removes one monkey from the back of CEO Dan Hesse as he is now free to focus on why Sprint has been shedding customers for so long. Also distracts everyone from noticing the delays in its own WiMax buildout.
Intel (INTC) – Intel has been peddling WiMax like a desperate streetwalker to anyone with an open car window. And its been seen hanging around the Clearwire convertible before. Intel wants to be the undisputed standard for WiMax chips, a role it failed to capture in WiFi. Not to mention selling lots of new processors for next generation laptops and smart phones.
Google (GOOG) – Yes, critical mass for Android will help extend its search and advertising dominance into mobile. And this network might turn out to be actually open. Despite Google’s game playing at the FCC auction, the “open” spectrum Verizon won will–in practice–be anything but. Fundamentally, Google has become a VC firm. A billion here, a billion there, something just might stick. All it takes is one 10-bagger to make it work. This ain’t it.
Time Warner Cable (TWC), Comcast (CMCSA) – the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of mobile will be exactly as successful here as they were with Pilot, the failed MVNO venture with Sprint. And for the same reasons.
Clearwire (CLWR) – Now we’re getting somewhere. Big cash infusion, lots of media attention. The rights to resell Sprint 3G will allow it to grow its top line, giving it time to progress on the buildout. In the end, though, even with a working network it won’t be enough to either satisfy consumers or to make it a viable competitor to the telecableco ISPs. ( And I’m not alone in my thinking, here.)
McCaw has a history of promote, build, and sell. Usually at the top. And always with someone else’s money. He’s going to extract himself from this before long, and come out smelling like a rose.
Or a crisp thousand-dollar bill.
Regardless of what happens, whether the network succeeds, whether or not anyone else makes any money, you can be sure of one thing: McCaw has this all mapped out. There’s your winner.
Disclosure: I hold no position in any of the stocks mentioned here.