Clearwire announced Jan. 8 that wireless industry pioneer John W. Stanton, already a member of Clearwire's board, will be its new chairman. Stanton succeeds another industry pioneer, Craig McCaw, in that position.
Stanton already owns a wireless holding company based in Kirkland, Wash., (which is where Clearwire is based) that runs wireless systems in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Stanton was responsible for rebuilding much of Haiti's wireless network infrastructure following the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
What's notable about Stanton, in addition to his roots at the beginning of the cellular industry, is his reputation as a dealmaker. Stanton was responsible for the sale of VoiceStream Wireless to Deutsche Telekom and its transition into T-Mobile USA. He served as T-Mobile's CEO until he brought in the recently departed Robert Dotson as his successor. Stanton's wireless companies use both GSM and CDMA services, and he is well-versed in the international aspects of wireless operations.
Stanton takes over as chairman following the abrupt resignation from that position by McCaw on Dec. 31. McCaw's departure at the time seemed to open the way for an investment in Clearwire by T-Mobile USA's parent Deutsche Telekom, a move that had been previously rejected prior to a shakeup of Clearwire's board. Previously, the Clearwire board had been heavily populated by executives from Sprint, which is Clearwire's dominant investor.
However, with Clearwire facing money problems, and Sprint declining to increase its current level of investment, Clearwire needed to look elsewhere if it was to continue expanding Sprint's WiMax network and to be able to deploy the LTE network technology it's currently testing in Phoenix. T-Mobile badly needs a true 4G solution to expand its network and grow its customer base. While it's been calling its HSPA+ network a 4G solution, the company needs to grow beyond that in the long term.
Without another major investor, Clearwire has had no alternative but to sell some of its vast spectrum holdings to raise money. While this might work in the short term, the amount of spectrum that Clearwire can afford to sell without limiting its ability to deliver 4G is finite. The only real hope for Clearwire's success is an investor that needs Clearwire as much as Clearwire needs it.
Enter T-Mobile USA. While the company has had great success selling its HSPA+ network as an alternative to the 4G offerings of Sprint and Verizon Wireless, it's ultimately still a 3G solution. It's a very fast solution, given that it's delivering significantly higher speeds than the 4G competition. But in the long run, T-Mobile needs an LTE solution to make a full-scale move into 4G. The company has been testing LTE in Europe for a couple of years, and has been conducting limited LTE tests in the United States.