T-Mobile Takes Aim at Sprint with Clearwire Investment Offer

News Analysis: Sprint directors are mulling an offer by Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile USA to invest in the Clearwire network owned by Sprint.

A growing coziness between T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel has been rumored for months. At one point there were rumors that T-Mobile's parent company, European communications goliath Deutsche Telekom, was preparing to buy Sprint and make it part of T-Mobile. So far, nothing had come of it-until now.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Sprint's directors are considering an offer by T-Mobile to invest in Sprint's Clearwire 4G service. Sprint currently owns slightly over half of Clearwire, giving it control of that company. Allowing T-Mobile to invest into Clearwire will give Sprint the money it needs to complete the built-out of its new 4G network, and it will give Deutsche Telekom an entr??«e into Clear's LTE development effort being put into place in Arizona.

At first glance, it's a little hard to nail down why T-Mobile might do this. Sprint is a relatively minor player compared with Deutsche Telekom, after all. Meanwhile, T-Mobile has been aggressively building out its HSPA+ 3G network around the United States. While it's 3G versus Sprint's Clearwire 4G, the fact remains that T-Mobile's network is about twice as fast as Sprint's.

But in the long run, the future of wireless data is 4G, and it's a sure bet that Clearwire's 4G speeds will get a lot faster, especially when LTE becomes part of the mix. While T-Mobile doesn't really need Sprint's WiMax version of 4G, LTE is another matter. That's where the industry is heading, and both Sprint and T-Mobile need to be there as quickly as they can if they are to compete against the LTE network being built by Verizon Wireless. That network should be in limited commercial operation by the end of 2010.

So far, this all kind of makes sense. Sprint needs investments to help build out 4G. T-Mobile needs a path to 4G quickly. Deutsche Telekom can afford to invest in anything it wants, including Clearwire 4G, not only for use in the United States, but also for its global operations. It's a win-win.

But then there's that elephant in the room. You know, the one that's about T-Mobile buying Sprint. On one hand, the investment into Sprint's 4G could be simply that-an investment into technology both companies need. But it could also be the first move in a bid to own Sprint Nextel one piece at a time.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...