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Friday, August 5, 2011

Sprint Network Sharing Deal with Clearwire

With the recent announcement of a network sharing deal between Sprint and Lightsquared, the media is now pressing for a deal to have Clearwire spectrum operate from Sprint sites as part of their Network Vision.  Sprint has done a great job of spinning that the WiMax network their devices operate is engineered, constructed, owned, and operated by them.  This often gets confused by the ownership interest that Sprint has in Clearwire. I think a model that represents this well is the joint ownership of a home.  Sprint, Comcast, Google, Time Warner,  Brighthouse, Intel, and Eagle River all have invested in this "home".  The "home" has its own budget and makes its own decisions (through the board of directors).  Obviously, decisions take the interests of each of the home owners into account but the board of directors is only required to make this the best "home" that it can be.

There are many partial truths that are circulating among the press and analyst opinions.  Below are a few:

  • Clearwire's network is Sprint's.  The WiMax radio and core network is entirely engineered, constructed, owned, and operated by Clearwire.  Each of the "home" owners customer traffic as well as other MVNO partners (Best Buy, Locus, Cbeyond, and Mitel) is routed from Clearwire's network each each of these partner's networks.
  • Sprint has the core skills to operate a 4G backhaul network.  It is clear that with the struggles that Dragonwave has in attracting new domestic customers, the four national wireless players don't value microwave as a backhaul solution for cell site data traffic, and lack experience in operating this portion of the all IP network.
  • As Clearwire stated on their investor call yesterday, only 40% of their 16,000 cell sites are located at the same sites that Sprint operates from.  These would be the only locations that have access to 4G backhaul and it only backhauls to the WiMax switching location, not to a location that Sprint controls.

Attached is a photograph from Sprint's Network Vision webpage.  The top picture shows a 4G site (the short cabinet on the left) co-located with a Sprint 3G site.  In this picture Sprint and Clearwire appear to be separate tenants of the tower owner since they don't appear to be sharing any common elements (power systems, cables, ground space, backhaul, or antennas.)

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