Cricket makes LTE deal with Clearwire

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Wireless operator Cricket Communications has inked a a five-year deal with Clearwire to provide 4G LTE mobile broadband services to Cricket customers. Cricket is already adding LTE to its own network, but by adding a wholesale agreement with Clearwire the company hopes to be able to offer LTE service to about two thirds of its network in the next two to three years. There’s just one catch: Clearwire isn’t actually operating any LTE service yet.

The companies did not disclose any financial terms of the deal.

“We believe this agreement with Clearwire provides us with an attractive option to supplement our own LTE build-out strategy and gives us the flexibility to access additional 4G capacity where needed as data-centric devices continue to become more popular,” said Leap Wireless president and CEO Doug Hutcheson, in a statement.

Clearwire is majority-owned by Sprint, and was initial set up as a provider of wholesale 4G services using WiMax technology — Clearwire (along with partners like Comcast, Intel, and Google) hoped to get a jump on the 4G game by having WiMax up and operational years before LTE became a growing concern. Although ClearWire did get WiMax up and running, long-term financial problems and bickering with Sprint inhibited widespread adoption — plus, almost the entire rest of the world decided to wait for LTE technology, rather than bet on WiMax. Clearwire announced plans to convert to add LTE technology to its network in August of last year; since then, Sprint signed on to lease capacity from Clearwire to supplement its own LTE network. Cricket becomes Clearwire’s second LTE customer.

Cricket launched its LTE services in Tuscon, Arizona, in late 2011. Cricket currently provides mobile services to about 7 million customers in the United States.

This deal doesn’t necessarily mean that Leap/Cricket LTE devices would be compatible with Sprint’s devices or network, or devices from Sprint-owned MVNOs like Boost and Virgin Mobile — Leap is an independent operator, although leasing LTE services from Clearwire does put it in Sprint’s sphere of influence.

Sprint’s board recently vetoed an effort to acquire independent mobile operator MetroPCS.

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