The Return of Craig McCaw

Craig McCaw, the wireless zen master, and market non-pareil has made his “check mate move.” His company Clearwire has raised $260 million in debt in order to expand company’s fixed wireless network. (Take that Vonage!) As a background, McCaw was the founder of McCaw Cellular, one of the early start-ups that grew to become a national network, and was eventually bought by AT&T to become the corner stone of AT&T Wireless. (AT&T Wireless is now part of Cingular, and if you follow that chain, you can see his midas touch.)

Then came Nextel, another blockbuster. He made some ill-fated wireline investments, but why tarnish his image with one blip. (That was XO Communications, in case you were wondering!) Anyway back to Kirkland, Washington-based Clearwire – which has raised money from 31 investors – has the option to raise another $260 million from the same investors. The company has till date raised $360 million from giants like Intel Corp. and Bell Canada.

Why are these investors risking such huge amounts of money on this company, which currently offers service in 16 markets and has fewer customers than SBC signs-up in a week? Simple – most investors know that this is last chance to get into the consumer last mile action. Cable & DSL are a duoply that is pretty hard to beat. Clearwire owns spectrum so it can actually offer service along with quality. The other wireless operators are going to be fighting in the unlicensed spectrum, the municipalities are going to be mired in political battles for a long long time. Clearwire is as good an option as you can find right now. And the company will build a nationwide network using the new cash, and well, could become a decent enough competitor to the incumbents.

(Here is the SEC filing, though it is not available for public consumption.)