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Chipzilla funds Sprint-Clearwire snog

One WiMAX to rule who knows how many

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Sprint's on-again, off-again relationship with Clearwire is on again.

This morning, the two beleaguered operations announced the creation of a new company that combines their respective WiMAX networks. You know, WiMAX - the new-fangled wireless broadband standard that may or may not qualify as 4G. Backed by $3.2bn from Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks, this brand new company will be called - wait for it - Clearwire.

Thankfully, it will not be called Xohm. But Sprint's Strategy Boutique-fueled WiMAX brand name is still kicking, and according to Sprint bigwig Atish Gude, it may find a home at the new Clearwire.

"The new company name is Clearwire, but Xohm has an opportunity to be a product or a service name," Gude told us. "We have to be very cognizant of the right name for our combined WiMAX network, because a brand carries so much information with it.

"We have to differentiate ourselves from competitors. We have to convey an excitement about new things to come. I think Xohm does that. But we won't make the ultimate decision for another couple of months or so."

Clearly, the new Clearwire has yet to spring for joss sticks and whalesong CDs.

Sprint and Clearwire first agreed to link their American WiMAX networks back in July. But that agreement fell apart just four months later, amid fears that a mere link wasn't enough.

"At that point, we were talking about two separate companies doing a common network - them building in their territories and us building in our territories, and then having bilateral roaming rights to ensure a seamless customer experience across the networks," Gude explained. "But as we got into it, we realized that providing that seamlessness was a complex proposition. As two separate companies, we weren't always going to invest in the same set of services."

When the deal broke down, many questioned whether either company could hope to WiMAXify the entire country on its own. But by February, the rumor mill claimed that Chipzilla was intent on getting the two back together, and it looks like the rumors weren't far from the mark. Intel has tossed a cool $1bn at the new Clearwire.

Which is hardly surprising. Intel has more than a few dollars invested in all sorts of WiMAX hardware.

Meanwhile, Google has ponied up $500m for the Sprint-Clearwire connection, as it continues to fight for American airwaves that are open to any application and any device. That includes devices that run Android, its as-yet-uncompleted open source cell phone OS that Sprint jumped behind when it was first trumpeted in November. Eric Schmidt and crew are also building various web services for the network that might be called Xohm.

The creation of the new Clearwire is certainly good news for everyone involved - especially Sprint. The company's revenue dipped from $41bn to $40.1bn last year, and in January, it axed 4,000 jobs and closed 125 retail stores. Then the news got worse, when cable giants Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner pulled the plug on Pivot, a Sprint joint-venture that offered wireless alongside TV, land-line, and internet service. Then it got worse again, as Qwest dropped Sprint for Verizon.

Sprint is so weak - and the euro is so strong - Deutsche Telekom is considering a takeover bid.

Sprint continues to test its WiMAX network in Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, and a few other select places. But after, um, extending these trials, it won't say when it plans to officially roll the thing out. ®

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