Clearwire's Extreme Makeover

Aspiring wireless broadband provider Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  ) is adding a new chapter to its story. Wait, scratch that -- this is becoming a full-on saga, with multiple plots in motion. On one hand, the company continues to burn hundreds of millions in cash as it builds up markets for its service. On the other hand, it's struck a major new deal to consolidate industry players.

On the financial front, Clearwire's revenue leapt 76% from a year ago, to $51.5 million, as it picked up 48,000 net new subscribers this quarter. The cost of providing service soared 128%, however, dragging gross margins down to 26% of revenue. To help improve cash return on investments, Clearwire avoided launching any new markets this quarter, focusing instead on scaling up current markets to improve margins

As promised, the company reined in expenses and slowed development of new markets, evidenced by a mere 44% increase in selling, general and administrative expenses. Greater spectrum lease expenses and debt service nearly doubled the bottom-line losses, though, as the company reported a net loss of $176.4 million.  

Just as with Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) , investors are largely looking beyond the big blotches of red ink covering Clearwire's financials. Clearwire's future seemed murky only a few months back, when its partnership with Sprint was shuttered and credit markets tightened up like a snare drum, but today's outlook is much different. WiMAX advocates have struck a bold new collaboration, including outside investment from cable firms Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) -- companies that currently compete with Clearwire's offerings.

Like a resurging racer that moves up to challenge the lone leader, the addition of cable players and the infusion of cash and spectrum into the new, proposed Clearwire make the industry's race toward the next generation of wireless services interesting again. With traditional telecom providers AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , and other telecom industry incumbents aligning behind an alternative next-generation standard called LTE, battle lines are now more clearly being drawn across industries.

The next few quarters will be consumed by the transition to the new company, one in which current Clearwire shareholders will only have a minor, 27% stake. But the addition of cash, spectrum and other assets will be a tremendous boost to the spread of WiMAX-based services. If the deal gets finished, investors will have a more viable contender in the space.

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Fool contributor Dave Mock considers driving Southern California freeways an extreme sport. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here and is the author of The Qualcomm Equation. Sprint Nextel is an Inside Value recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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