Comcast and Sprint Could Save Clearwire -- but Why Stop There?


The future of Clearwire (NAS: CLWR) has been looking more murky than clear in recent months. Main squeeze Sprint Nextel (NYS: S) as much as abandoned Clearwire's WiMax technology when it announced a rivaling LTE partnership with LightSquared, giving Clearwire investors a 24% overnight haircut. Then the stock collapsed again on news that Clearwire itself is heading down LTE Avenue.

But today Clearwire is soaring back to prices not seen since before that fateful LightSquared announcement. Rumor has it that Sprint and Comcast (NAS: CMCSA) might partner up to buy the company outright.

A deal like that would save Clearwire from the brink of insolvency -- it's expensive to build nationwide 4G networks of one type and even more so when you've committed to two dueling solutions at once. Clearwire has $3.2 billion of net debt to service, and the interest expenses alone cost the company $129 million last quarter.

Sprint and Comcast also come with heavy debt loads, but they're balanced out by billion-dollar cash accounts and -- at least in Comcast's case -- strongly positive free cash flows. If these big rollers believe in Clearwire's services, technology, and/or treasure trove of wireless spectrum licenses, then this deal needs to happen.

I can even see Sprint and Comcast taking the next logical step in a three-way merger.

Think about it: AT&T (NYS: T) and Verizon Communications (NYS: VZ) already sport quadruple-play consumer services that include voice, data, TV, and wireless products. Comcast lacks the cell-phone component while that's all Sprint and Clearwire can do. Baking the whole shebang together would create a respectable third leg to balance out the duopoly currently in the making.

To be fair, Comcast would meet heavy opposition to such a plan from consumer watchdogs and regulators alike -- remember how hard it was to extract NBC Universal from General Electric (NYS: GE) and then double the sweat. But if the proposed AT&T-Mobile merger is approved, this would be the next logical evolution of the consumer communications market.

In the meantime, a joint Sprint-Comcast venture would make a serviceable white knight for the troubled 4G specialist. Keep an eye on these guys, lest you miss the next investable moment in telecom history:

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundholds no position in any of the companies discussed here.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of AT&T. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. You can check outAnders' holdings and a concise bio, follow him onTwitterorGoogle+, or peruseour Foolish disclosure policy.

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