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SB will gain operational control of Clearwire...what that will take remains open to question, but make no mistake, it will be locked down.
Simply put, no senior manager would invest $20B+ with the intent of being "number one" and leave out the one must component to make a return on the investment.
Although technology helps improve data throughput on existing (available) spectrum bands, it has become a basic operational function for operators to acquire, control, aggregate or otherwise increase the companies’ spectrum position through an ongoing process. This primarily comes from the fact that adding spectrum is generally the "cheaper" way to add data carrying capacity (I know, lots of tradeoffs in real life). Capacity being the primary mover and coverage a close second for most data usage, unlike voice applications.
However putting aside spectrum characteristics, most of us have heard the term "ownership economics" thrown around by the wireless operators when talking about spectrum holdings or usage, well that is little different from the way electric utilities look at things. Paraphrase the words of a utility CFO - we prefer CAPEX rather than OPEX as we view the former recoverable and OPEX is simply a non-recoverable expenditure. -
If SoftBank is to be a viable competitor to the duopoly twins, SB-S has to offer a much more compelling product than VZ and AT&T and it must be a sustainable differentiation or advantage, as a slight improvement in either service or content will not assure success of becoming "number one". That points directly to offering acceptable services at a lower cost point than can easily be matched by the two primary competitors for an extended period so as to gain transitional opportunities (at least 5 or 6 product generation cycles).
That means SB-S will shoot for the lowest possible operational costs (as small of network as possible and still have acceptable service) and that requires maximum spectrum capacity, which will be used to offer discounted or unlimited service.
They will lock down Clearwires spectrum and will not leave it to a poorly defined usage agreement on which to make a $20B+ investment.
Obviously, I have not included ecosystem inputs or individual device popularity in my comments, but the former holds advantages for SB-S and the latter has become a non-issue as all will have access to any device made at this point..
They are going to offer unlimited data plans at speeds that T and VZ can't complete with. There also may not be locked in contract lengths. That's what's going to happen. People are going to be disatisfied with slow data speeds from T and VZ, especially for video and they also don't like having to pay data surcharges.
Sentiment: Strong Buy
There is no "poorly defined agreement" re Clearwire's spectrum.
Any company sale require's Sprint/Softbank's vote; any spectrum sale above 20% requires Sprint/Softbank's vote.
The only potential hole is the below 20% asset sale. In order for that to happen, someone at Clearwire must be clearly incentivized to go against the wishes of their de facto bosses. Also, there has to be another bidder in play (VZ/T can't go through the regulatory necessities; DISH/GOOG might be interested, but not at bidding war prices).
The way this is proceeding thus far, ie SB pursuing the stake in CW and further indication of their intent to make use of the spectrum is lining up well for investors imo.
Sprint holds tacit control over Clearwire already.. even if the deal were scotched, they have controlling interest in the company. Sprint/Hesse have said several times in the past that they would like to see partners for wholesale access to Clearwire's networks because that would work out best to reduce their own costs and would obviously help out the value of their 50% stake in CW.
Clearwire has been pursing the brute force approach to using the spectrum: use of fat channels... they have so much of it why not do it the dumb old way that helps use it up? Regardless, there has been more spectrum than the company or its current partners have been able to put to use.
Work is progressing rapidly in 3GPP and at individual suppliers and operators to make use of CoMP, cooperative multi-point device architectures, more advanced forms of HetNet, higher order MIMO-AAS, higher order modulation, for instance for well controlled backhaul links using QAM 128 and higher, and also multiple carrier aggregation. In rapid fire succession, efforts have progressed in world-wide alignment of multiple-carrier use of spectrum including in the bands controlled by Softbank, Sprint, and Clearwire (band 41). The stuff that has been more in the talk/hype stage is now very much in the implementation stage of gaining agreement among the major standards groups and regulatory authorities so that equipment suppliers and operators can relatively quickly move ahead. Its important to recognize what is happening because the pace has changed: work on spectrum regulation can be like watching the paint dry on the titanic.. it is a big, complex, and often frustrating area because there are various holders, prospective licencors, standards, private and public classes of use, etc. that are often seen as conflicting sets of interests. However, what is happening is consensus has come together increasingly around HSPA and LTE eUTRAN networks due to the huge gains in performance that can be accomplished and rapid growth of markets. Money, money, money... is what ultimately compels these efforts to move forward more rapidly. And money grows out of putting spectrum to work more effectively to deliver not just huge capacity increases but greater ease of use, more commonality/lower costs, and a paradigm shift in the way wireless can be leveraged as more the universal media of 'broadband everywhere' than 'just mobile' or 'just broadband' or 'just cloud computing'.
Recent 3GPP meetings have also made progress in what comes next.. 3GPP rel 11, 12 are moving from refined research towards commercial development... hammering down the technology framework more solidly so that equipment suppliers and operators can do concrete development work that is scheduled to start appearing in just a couple of years. Demonstrations have recently taken place in the advanced that have shown use of CoMP. DoCoMo showed a controlled demonstration of multiple users each with download rates of 1Gbps. This 'lab' type demonstration is not to be taken as being rolled out within 2-3 years but it is showing that huge increases in capacity lay ahead.
Now think about Clearwire's situation: On the one hand they have a large amount of spectrum, most of which is not being used. On the other hand, the scale of capacity that will be made available combined with low latency similar to wired/fiber networks will result in 'fiber like' wireless capacity. Delivering that will obviously take a requisite huge investment of capital and effort. The outcome can be SDWN, 'Cloud 4G' vision of the future becomes a reality: using wireless, in particular the large swatch of 2.6GHz spectrum, to deliver both pervasive coverage and very high bandwidth that can be used for multiple purposes.
It has taken progress within the industry to deliver this environment ie time. The SB-Sprint-Clearwire mash-up or something like it had to come together to pursue the industry road map.
I think that CLWR is a notch more assured as an investment for the little guy investors (including the 5-7% holders) due to the sketching out of the proposed structure.
Long term, strong buy. Short term still not certain.. the TA looks more bearish than bullish but has somewhat improved by treading water without succumbing to nervous selling.. the 'structure of the investment' has improved which helps cement the floor under the stock to prevent more than mild technical selling (short term profit taking/nervous selling). Mid-term strong buy. Overall.. accumulate to buy. The approval process will likely take several months and upsets such as DISH sending unfavorable signals about who they might align with are possibilities. However, that should be taken in perspective.. this mash-up is going to be very impressive once it gets underway imo.