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Clearwire CEO: Network To Cover Up To 140 Million By 2010

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NEW YORK (Dow Jones) The WiMax joint venture between Sprint Nextel and Clearwire will create a network that potentially covers 120 million to 140 million people by 2010, said Clearwire Chief Executive Benjamin Wolff.

Beyond 2010, the network could reach up to 200 million people, he told analysts during a conference call on Wednesday.

"It's a network that stands to change the game," Wolff said. "(WiMax is) real, and it's here now."

The combination of the two companies' spectrum will give it the best position in the nation, Wolff said.

In addition to the joint venture, the deal will allow Clearwire to use Sprint's long-distance and backhaul networks, and sales force. It will also pay below-market rates for Sprint's cell towers.

It's a "landmark day" for Sprint, the telecom industry and its partners, said Sprint Chief Executive Dan Hesse. He noted that by the end of the year, WiMax will cover 15 million people.

By keeping WiMax in play, Sprint is ushering in an alternative wireless technology that differs from traditional cellular service. The model and vision is different, and if successful, could threaten Sprint's rivals, all of which have longer term plans for their fourth-generation wireless technology.

Barry West, chief technology officer of Sprint, said he expects only early trials of next-generation wireless technology from the likes of AT&T and Verizon Wireless - jointly owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group - in early 2010. A full-fledged build-out will take longer.

"Our time to market advantage is maintained," he said, noting that the plans to cover so many people are "aggressive by any standards."

The agreement doesn't preclude any future deals, Hesse said, although he declined to comment on reports that it may sell its Nextel assets or be acquired by Deutsche Telekom.

Sprint and Clearwire will also resell each other's services, so both will be able to offer Sprint's current cellular service as well as WiMax.

The cable companies will also resell wireless service. Hesse said the companies will market the service under its their own brands. They previously struck a deal to offer a service under the Pivot brand, but the cable companies have recently begun to shut the Pivot service down. This time around, the cable companies will have more individual control, he said.

The resale relationship is a "tried and true arrangement," he said.

Down the line, Wolff said he expects consumer electronic products will have WiMax technology embedded in them.

Wolff said WiMax service on laptops would be similar to cellular aircards employed now - roughly $60 - but he wouldn't fully commit to any pricing, and noted they could take prices down because of the more efficient operating costs for the service.

Earlier Wednesday, Sprint, along with leaders from the chip, Internet and cable industries, unveiled a partnership to create a $3.2 billion company using the wide-ranging wireless technology. Other players include Intel, Google, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast.

-By Roger Cheng, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-2020; roger.cheng@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

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