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August 9, 2006 at 1:38 PM

Clearwire clears a few things up

After Sprint Nextel announced yesterday it had picked WiMax as its technology of choice to roll out a nationwide wireless broadband network, I called Clearwire to ask a few questions.

Kirkland-based Clearwire has been working for at least three years on building a wireless broadband network. It’s led by Craig McCaw, the wireless entrepreneur who started McCaw Cellular Communications, which later became AT&T Wireless. Clearwire uses a proprietary technology in its 30 markets, while it waits for WiMax equipment to become available in the next year or so.

A lot of the material from yesterday’s interview made it into today’s story, but I didn’t get a chance to include some of the responses to questions I asked about, espeically surrounding a lot of rumors about the company.

Although Ben Wolff, Clearwire’s co-chief executive with McCaw, declined to answer a couple, he cleared others up.

On the issue of whether Clearwire was participating in today’s spectrum auction, where the government is selling the rights to airwaves, Wolff said “no, we aren’t.”

When I asked if Clearwire was possibly participating through the help of a partner, Wolff said again, “We are not participating at all.”

On whether Clearwire might be working with Rupert Murdoch’s DirecTV (which is participating in today’s auction) to form a partnership, Wolff said up until now, “there has been no comment.”

I asked if he would like to change that response, he said: “no.”

I also asked him what his reaction was to Sprint Nextel, which was claiming that it will be the first company to roll out a WiMax or a 4G network.

He said: “We are certainly already in the process of rolling out a pre-WiMax network, and we’ve made the commitment to a WiMax network. So, with all due respect to Sprint, I wouldn’t agree with its statements. But then, we haven’t seen the need to share a whole lot of what we are doing with Sprint.”

To date, Clearwire and Sprint have been working together on a limited basis, mostly swapping spectrum in geographic areas where one is deficient and the other is flush. But a note in Clearwire’s initial public offering filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (which it has since canceled), said the company can swap spectrum with Nextel until Oct. 3, 2006, or for less than another two months.

Wolff said that is true, but clarified that there’s no reason why the two companies couldn’t continue to work together after that contract expires.

“There’s no particular parameters that says we can’t do anything in particular,” he said.

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