Clearwire Chairman Craig McCaw to Resign

Clearwire Chairman Craig McCaw, who founded Clearwire's predecessor company in 2003, is set to resign on Friday.

Clearwire Chairman Craig McCaw, who founded Clearwire's predecessor company in 2003, is set to resign on Friday.

Clearwire announced McCaw's departure in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Thursday. His departure was not caused by any disagreement with the company over its operations, policies or practices, Clearwire said in the filing.

McCaw, a cellular industry pioneer, founded Clearwire as a pre-WiMax wireless broadband operator. The company merged with part of Sprint Nextel in 2008 to form the current Clearwire. When the new entity was formed, investor Eagle River Holdings named McCaw as its chairman as part of a deal involving partners including Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Google. Eagle River has the right to nominate a board member to replace McCaw and has indicated to Clearwire that it intends to name former CEO Benjamin Wolff in his place, according to the filing.

The carrier is constructing a WiMax mobile broadband network across the U.S. but has faced challenges in funding the massive buildout. As of Friday, the end of the year, Clearwire's network reached just over 110 million U.S. residents, falling short of the goal of 120 million that the company stated in early 2009.

In November, Clearwire said it would lay off 15 percent of its staff, reduce its contract workforce and cut back some marketing and development activities in an effort to conserve cash. In early December, it raised US$1.4 billion through debt offerings.

On Tuesday, Clearwire finally launched its service commercially in the San Francisco Bay Area, as it had promised to by year's end. But after beginning 2010 as the only major provider of the fast mobile broadband services typically called 4G, by the end of the year Clearwire faced competition from fast networks operated by Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS. When Verizon launched its LTE (Long-Term Evolution) service on Oct. 6, the carrier said it could reach 110 million people.

Also on Friday, Clearwire confirmed it is discontinuing the iSpot mobile hotspot, which uses the WiMax service to link to the Internet and passes on that connection specifically to Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. The move was revealed on user forums and reported by Engadget.

Because it does not offer 3G connectivity as a backup in areas where WiMax is not available, the iSpot is not as useful as Clearwire's other Spot products, which can be used with any Wi-Fi device. However, the carrier offers an attractive monthly plan for the iSpot, with unlimited data usage for $25 per month. A hack apparently was recently discovered that would let owners use the iSpot to connect non-iOS clients, too.

Clearwire will continue to sell the iSpot as long as its stock lasts, spokesman Mike DiGioia said. Owners of the device will be able to continue getting the $25-per-month plan.

The other Spot devices, the Spot 4G for WiMax-only coverage and the Spot 4G+ for WiMax and 3G, come with data plans costing about $40 per month and up. They are still available.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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