Tiptoeing Around the Elephant in the Board Room
So which path would T-Mobile be more likely to take? It seems to me that investing in Clearwire makes the most sense. By doing that, T-Mobile gets access to all of that spectrum, plus it gets access to Clear's LTE technology. This would cut development costs for T-Mobile, and make it possible to move its LTE deployment up. While T-Mobile's parent company is already getting some LTE experience in Europe, not all of that is easily translated to the U.S. Clearwire would give T-Mobile a real jump start over AT&T. Sprint, meanwhile, would benefit from a T-Mobile investment in Clearwire. Sprint has made clear its intention to finish building out its WiMax network, but to accomplish that it needs Clearwire to get more investment from somewhere. Sprint also plans to transition into LTE over time, and getting investment into Clearwire would also move that along. While Sprint Nextel may be less than thrilled to have T-Mobile involved in the same Clearwire 4G network, the fact is that for the two smallest national wireless companies, it may be the only way to combat their mutual, and much larger competitors, Verizon Wireless and AT&T.And of course, there's always the elephant in the board room. The rumors that T-Mobile and its Deutsche Telekom parent want to acquire Sprint Nextel persist. If this is actually true then this might go a long way in explaining the real reasons for the Sprint executives' departure from Clearwire's board. Many observers have already said that the new anti-trust rules don't really apply to the Sprint presence on Clearwire's board. But perhaps acquisition talks in the background, when added to the mix, explain things a little more. Now, the final question. Will any of this actually happen? That's hard to say. It certainly would explain a lot of things. There may be other moves in the background that aren't public, but would make even more sense. Either way, I don't think we've seen the second shoe drop in the Clearwire drama.
Admittedly, AT&T is pretty far behind the curve in its high-speed data networking. Its 3G network is overwhelmed, and its 4G plans have been put off for at least a year. By using Clearwire as a joint venture between Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile, there could be a relatively quick path to going live with 4G before AT&T.