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Clearwire on Thursday outlined a long-term view of growth for their new WiMAX venture with Sprint, forecasting revenue of over $17.5 billion by 2017.

In a slide presentation to investors, Clearwire said it expected the venture have some 30 million subscribers and cover as many as 220 million people by 2017.

In the nearer term, Clearwire expects to offer coverage to 60 to 80 million people by the end of next year, 100 million U.S. citizens by the end of 2010, and 200 million potential users by 2015.

Clearwire projected average revenue per user at $60 to $65, with free cash flow of $3.8 billion in that time frame. Free cash flow refers to earnings, excluding amortization and depreciation, but including capital expenditures.

CEO Ben Wolff said the company will only need $2 billion to $2.3 billion of additional capital — on top of the $3.2 billion invested by Google, Intel and its cable friends — to complete its planned mobile WiMax network. “Once we close this [Sprint] deal, Clearwire’s average spectrum position will be over 120MHz per market,” said Wolff. Previously the company has been offering services in 30MHz to 33MHz of spectrum per market.

The venture deal is expected to close at the end of 2008. Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks “have already committed to enter into non-exclusive wholesale agreements with New Clearwire.” Under the arrangement, the companies will become mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) that can resell Clearwire services under their own brands.

By 2014 Clearwire forecasts nearly 20 million Mobile WiMAX customers in a territory covering about 200 million U.S. citizens. ABI Research forecasts that by 2013 there will be some 32 million LTE subscribers world-wide, with the United States getting around one quarter of that total, or about 8 million.

AT&T will have spent $20 billion on 3G upgrades to its network by the end of 2008, according to a spokesman for the carrier, while Verizon reportedly spent over $45 billion on broadband expansion in the last eight years. But LTE will require a forklift upgrade for cellular carriers. New basestations, new handsets, new backhaul, new everything. Sprint says an LTE upgrade would cost them ten times more than WiMAX – with a 2-3 year delay.

Some 16 percent of all US households have now switched from landlines to wireless phones for basic voice services. But don’t expect cellular providers to deliver “wireless DSL” for $29/month.

Perhaps it would be prudent to recall the ignominious end to AT&T. First the telecommunications giant bought TCI Cable. After loosing a fortune, they were bought out by Comcast. Meanwhile, AT&T Wireless was acquired by SBC. San Antonio-based Southwestern Bell (SBC) wisely kept the name, but AT&T is now largely history.

See DailyWireless: Sprint: We’re the “3rd Pipe”.

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