Clearwire: Narrows Loss, On Track In Its 4G Rollout

WiMax operator Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) says it remains on track in its “aggressive” plan to roll out its 4G network to 120 million people by the end of this year, with Houston the next market to launch in the coming weeks. Other cities due to launch toward the end of this year include San Francisco, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington DC and Kansas City. Total subscribers are still growing and are currently at 688,000.

Clearwire, which reported earnings for the fourth quarter today, nevertheless reported a loss of $98.7 million on revenues of $79.9 million, compared to a loss of $118 million for the same quarter a year before.

Wholesale partners remain a major part of the company’s strategy. Clearwire already counts Sprint (NYSE: S), Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) among its distribution partners (as well as investors) and says that third-party partners represent 100 million users. “We intend to enter into additional third-party wholesale aggreements later this year,” said William Morrow, the CEO of Clearwire. How attractive that offer will be to companies that are not investors, though, remains to be seen. Targets, says Morrlow, will be ISPs, fixed/wireless carriers, as well as consumer electronic companies and other retailers.

Strong capex, future funding and equipment writedown. Clearwire is committing to investing $2.8 billion-$3.2 billion in 2010 on network expansion this year. It has confirmed investor’s statements that it is funded sufficiently now for its 120 million target, but Morrow says it will need to raise more money if and when it decides to extend its network again in 2011 and beyond. On a more bum note, Clearwire says that it wrote off $30 million in equipment inventory — the details will come out in Clearwire’s next 10-k.

Usage stats for service to-date. Clearwire says that half of its customers are using its WiMax service as a replacement for past internet connections. So far the service has been most popular among younger, more mobile people under the age of 35 and apartment dwellers. There’s increasing interest now too from small businesses and families. The average customer is using 7 gigabytes of data per day. Pre-4G customers double their usage when they upgrade to 4G.