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Can Clearwire`s new CEO bring in the cash?


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Clearwire has promoted its chief operating officer Erik Prusch to President and CEO after a five-month search following the departure of former CEO Bill Morrow. Interim CEO John Stanton is stepping down, remaining at the head of Clearwire’s board of directors, though the word “executive” has been tacked in front of his title of chairman, implying he will maintain a hands on role with the still struggling mobile broadband provider.

When Morrow departed in March, he left Clearwire in a bit of a shambles and took several Clearwire executives with him (CP: Clearwire, in crisis mode, loses CEO). Clearwire had all but halted its nationwide WiMAX expansion, lacking the funds to build new markets, and was scaling back its retail operations to conserve cash. It was in the middle of a spat with primary investor Sprint over wholesale payments, and a cloud hung over its future 4G strategy as it weighed a switch to long-term evolution technology.

Under Stanton’s leadership, Clearwire managed to clear up many of those messes. Clearwire made up with Sprint, getting Sprint to commit to WiMAX until the end of 2012 and guaranteeing another $1 billion in revenue (CP: Clearwire, Sprint fight no more). Last week, Clearwire finally spelled out its 4G plans, committing to overlaying LTE on its current WiMAX networks (CP: As the 4G road forks, Clearwire takes both paths), though it did not reveal any timetable and still lacks the funds to execute that strategy. And now Stanton has found his replacement as CEO.

“Erik has demonstrated the ability and talent necessary to lead our organization through one of the most competitive periods in the mobile broadband industry’s short history,” Stanton said in a statement (Unfiltered: Clearwire promotes Erik Prusch). “I strongly believe that under his guidance our business will deliver value to shareholders as we continue to grow our business and leverage our unmatched and unencumbered spectrum advantage.”

The only major obstacle left is that of funding—and it’s a doozey. But Clearwire hopes it is well on its way to solving that problem with its new CEO choice. Morrow brought Prusch to Clearwire (They worked together as the top executives at Borland software) to be the company’s money man (Unfiltered: Clearwire C-Level overhaul continues). In his two years as CFO and COO, he helped raise $6 billion in equity and debt to fund the WiMAX rollout, according to Clearwire.

Clearwire and Stanton are probably counting on an encore performance now that Prusch is CEO. Clearwire estimates it only needs $600 million to build out the first stage of its LTE overlay, reusing its existing WiMAX infrastructure to save costs (CP: CTO explains Clearwire’s unique flavor of LTE). But expanding beyond its current 130-million-pops footprint is another story. Clearwire will need billions of dollars to complete its nationwide network or it will have to negotiate a network sharing deal Sprint, allowing it to hang its LTE and WiMAX networks off of Sprint’s new Vision architecture (CP: Clearwire hints at LTE build with Sprint).


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