Another Clearwire Cliffhanger?

It will be interesting to listen in on -- or at least read the transcript of -- Clearwire's (NAS: CLWR) earnings conference call for the first quarter. Each Clearwire quarter seems to end like an old-fashioned movie serial -- let's call it The Perils of Clearwire -- where each episode/quarter concludes with a speeding locomotive bearing down on our victim tied to the tracks. And then, of course, the screen goes dark and we have to come back next week/quarter to see how it turns out.

True to form, Clearwire's future again seems to be another cliffhanger. The 10 analysts that BusinessWeek polled estimated Clearwire will once again report a losing quarter, this time down by $0.39 a share, compared to a negative $0.37 for the previous quarter, with revenue expected to be down almost 15.5%.

The good news for Clearwire as the first quarter of 2012 began was that SprintNextel (NYS: S) , its sometimes helpful/sometimes not 4G network partner, had just bailed Clearwire out of defaulting on its $237 million interest payment. Sprint agreed to provide funding worth $1.6 billion to Clearwire so it could continue providing 4G WiMAX networking to Sprint while upgrading its network to the faster 4G LTE technology.

But the fourth quarter of 2011 had ended with another train full of bad news bearing down on Clearwire. Verizon's (NYS: VZ) year-end deal to buy a large cache of spectrum from several cable companies was the villain here. The cable companies not only got cash for their spectrum licenses, they also got the rights to resell Verizon's wireless services. Two of those companies, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, would then have no need to renew their wireless contracts with Clearwire.

Curses! Losing two clients meant Clearwire was even more dependent on the always difficult-to-read stratagems of Sprint.

The exciting (for some) climax of Q1
Now, for the dramatic closing scene of this quarter: Verizon gave notice earlier this month that it plans to auction off chunks of its 700 MHz spectrum holdings. Those frequencies, though less valuable to Verizon for its own LTE network, are quite attractive to the other mobile carriers, both large and small. AT&T (NYS: T) should be especially interested in that spectrum, as it compliments its LTE network in several large markets. MetroPCS (NYS: PCS) is one of the smaller carriers that also might want to make a play for those frequencies.

But what could really put a wrench in Clearwire's works is if its best-friend-forever Sprint feels it would be better off investing in some of that Verizon spectrum rather than continuing to keep Clearwire afloat.

My advice here is to buy some popcorn and hold on to your seats while hearing what Clearwire's leadership has to say.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Dan Radovsky owns shares of AT&T. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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