Sprint partner Clearwire posts loss, loses customers

Clearwire Corp., the wireless network partner of Sprint Nextel Corp., said Tuesday that it lost money and shed customers in the final months of 2012.

The company also said completing a proposed buyout by Sprint might be necessary to avoid raising “substantial doubts” about Clearwire’s future as a “going concern.”

Sprint has agreed to pay $2.2 billion for the roughly 49 percent of Clearwire it doesn’t already own. Clearwire’s directors had recommended that shareholders take the offer, though some large holders of its stock have balked at the $2.97-a-share price as too low.

A rival bid from Dish Network Corp. values Clearwire at $3.30 a share. Still, Clearwire’s board of directors has not changed its recommendation to investors.

On Monday, Dish chairman Charlie Ergen repeated his interest in buying Clearwire as a means of building its own wireless network, according to Bloomberg News.

“We’re serious about it. Our offer is good for shareholders. Sprint will have to do more to keep us out,” Ergen said during a conference in California, Bloomberg reported.

Sprint’s bid is tied to its own pending merger with Tokyo-based SoftBank Corp., which has agreed to buy 70 percent of the Overland Park-based wireless carrier for $20 billion.

Clearwire said its revenue in the fourth quarter fell 14 percent to $311 million. Its net loss declined to $187.2 million, or 30 cents a share, from $236.8 million, or 81 cents a share, a year earlier.

Much of the decline in revenue came from the company’s new contract with Sprint for using Clearwire’s WiMax technology network. Sprint has stopped promoting WiMax phones in favor of faster ones that use Long Term Evolution, or LTE, technology.

Clearwire said it had 9.6 million subscribers, including 8.2 million that came from wholesalers of its wireless network, principally Sprint.

Both companies are building LTE networks, though Sprint said it would rely on Clearwire’s coverage to boost its own reach.

Shares of Clearwire stock fell 1 cent and closed at $3.18, which is between the prices offered by Sprint and Dish Network. Sprint shares rose 12 cents to $5.91.