Ben Wolff

Clearwire's CEO talks about building out WiMax nationwide, finding Wimax's killer app and surviving the economic downturn.

Ben Wolff is CEO of Clearwire Corp., a WiMax wireless Internet service provider founded in 2003 by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw. Clearwire recently finalized a merger with Sprint Nextel Inc.'s WiMax business, and the newly merged company aims to roll out high-speed wireless service nationwide in the next two years, aided by a $3.2 billion investment by Google Inc., Intel Corp. and three cable companies. The WiMax service is already operational in Baltimore, and service in several other major cities is on the way.

What is the flagging economy going to do to your very ambitious plans for a national WiMax wireless rollout with Sprint and other investors? The great news is that we've got $3.2 billion of cash coming in. If that sounds like a lot, it is. We can last a long time on $3.2 billion. We don't have a huge amount of pressure to go out and get additional financing.

We're well positioned to ride out the financial market storm. It would be different if we didn't have the [deal] with Sprint, Google and the cable companies for a joint venture to build the network.

What will it cost in total to build a national WiMax network? Close to the $7 billion range. But it's still a dramatically lower cost than what you've seen in traditional cellular builds. And there are good reasons for that. We are using a flat, Layer 2 IP network architecture, much more simple than what you see in traditional cellular. Also, the equipment that goes on the cell tower is smaller, lighter, more compact. The costs are dramatically less.

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