Plot thickens as Clearwire CEO quits

Caroline Gabriel/Rethink Wireless
The surprise resignation of Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow has birthed speculation that Sprint is about to take full control of its Wimax joint venture, or at least force a deal upon it that is opposed by senior management.
 
Morrow cited the usual personal reasons, but left as part of a broader cull that included some of his handpicked lieutenants, like chief commercial officer Mike Sievert.
 
CIO Kevin Hart also departed to "pursue other opportunities", just months after founder and chairman Craig McCaw had stepped down. His replacement as chairman of the board, John Stanton, has taken over as interim CEO while the firm hunts for a replacement for Morrow, who officially continues to serve as an adviser during the transition.
 
Clearwire's stock rose on the news, even though the loss of Morrow could only be a bitter blow to an independent operator - so perhaps the markets have given up hope of that and just want a resolution of longstanding disputes with major shareholder and largest MVNO Sprint, even if these come at the cost of Clearwire losing its freedom of action.
 
Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse has been engaged in a posturing game over the past few months, presumably aiming to get the best deal with Clearwire. He has alternately hinted that Sprint might walk away from the venture, and then insisted Clearwire is part of any 4G strategy the larger operator may pursue.
 
In hostile mode, he has suggested that Sprint could pursue its own 4G strategy, with an LTE build-out in its existing spectrum enabled by its new flexible base station architecture. This is likely to happen anyway, but Sprint may have grander plans to join forces with LightSquared and/or T-Mobile USA in this endeavor, turning itself into a supernetwork that could host several partners.
 
In more conciliatory moments, as at the Deutsche Bank conference earlier this week, Hesse has said that, whichever of these 4G options and combinations Sprint might adopt, Clearwire and Wimax certainly remain part of them, and that disputes over wholesale fees and other matters would soon be resolved.
 

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