WiMAX: Sprint, Clearwire Mulling the Future, Maybe Together

wimaxsprintclearwire.gifSprint Nextel (S) and Clearwire (CLWR), two companies that are betting the farm on building out WiMAX networks, are getting no love from Wall Street analysts. Sprint just reported a disastrous quarter, and the continuing decline in revenues and subscribers might result in lower spending on its WiMAX efforts. Similarly, Clearwire is not growing fast enough to satisfy investors.

Pali Research analyst Walter Piecyk downgraded the Clearwire stock to sell, saying the recently launched PC Card is not selling as well as had been expected. He cites two reasons for the slow sales: high price point vs. CDMA PC cards, and lack of awareness. Piecyk is very concerned that the cost of deployment of WiMAX is going to be higher than expected; he thinks cap-ex could top a billion dollars in 2008.

Wall Street has been clamoring for Sprint and Clearwire to merge their WiMAX operations and create a new company with a massive national footprint. The Wall Street Journal quotes Sprint’s acting CEO as saying that they are having “discussions” with Clearwire. The merits of that argument are understandable, but the reality is that it is unlikely to happen till Sprint finds a new CEO and the management team can finally get its strategy together.

It is important to note that Wall Street goes through phases of “new technology induced depression.” The early phase of deployment of new wireless and broadband technologies is one that’s full of uncertainty, but in the long term, bets on new technologies boost the respective companies involved. Sprint went through this shift with its PCS rollout, and more recently, Verizon (VZ) with its FiOS rollout. I guess WiMAX, despite all its potential, is going through that phase right now.