Craig McCaw Resigns As Clearwire Chairman

Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) will start 2011 without founder Craig McCaw. According to an SEC filing, the telecom veteran told the company earlier this week that he was resigning as chairman of the WiMax startup, effective Friday. McCaw, known for great success and failure in his earlier telecom and cable efforts, has been chairman of the Clearwire board since the current company was formed as a $14.5 billion JV with Sprint (NYSE: S) Nextel and a host of equity partners including Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) in 2008. As the founder of Clearwire, his resignation is a major blow to the operator as it struggles to build out its 4G coverage amid cash concerns and increasing competition from other operators.

The SEC filing stressed that McCaw’s “decision to resign is not due to any disagreements with the Company on any matters relating to the Company’s operations, policies, or practices.” McCaw’s investment company, Eagle River Investments, has the right to name another board member and has nominated former CEO Ben Wolff, the cofounder who served as co-chairman for a time.

No further explanation for the resignation was given in the SEC filing, but Clearwire has recently been having a rocky ride:

Clearwire announced in November it would slash its staff by 15 percent following wider losses and uncertain funding. It had even said that it could run out of money as early as mid-2011.

And while Clearwire has been looking for other funding, in an effort to raise cash, Clearwire earlier this month announced a $1.1 billion debt offering. Ultimately, it ended up selling $1.325 billion of bonds and exchangeable notes in a three-part offering. This likely will mean that the mid-2011 deadline will have been pushed back a bit.

Sprint, which has a majority stake in Clearwire, has yet to announce whether it will buy up to $760 million in convertible bonds in the operator. It has until January 2, 2011, to do so — a deadline that has a striking coincidence with McCaw’s departure.

If elected, Wolff would be the fourth new board member in as many weeks, following the appointment earlier this month of three new reps for Sprint to replace CEO Dan Hesse and two others who left in the fall over antitrust concerns.

Clearwire — which is currently in 68 markets with its 4G service — was an early mover in high-speed, wireless services, with its WiMAX-based network, built out with partner Sprint. But services based on more recent technology — such as LTE from Verizon, and HSPA+ from T-Mobile — have somewhat taken the shine off that apple.

McCaw has been in the wireless industry since the early Eighties, starting with a company, McCaw Cellular, that was in 1994 sold to AT&T (NYSE: T) for $11.5 billion and renamed AT&T Wireless.

There is, as yet, no news of what he plans to do next.