Sprint and Clearwire raced to a healthy lead in the 4G mobile broadband market, having launched WiMAX coverage across numerous markets and tens of millions of POPs. But with Verizon set to unwrap its LTE service in the coming weeks and offer dedicated devices starting early next year—and perhaps more importantly with Clearwire still facing a funding shortage—is the Sprint/Clearwire team beginning to tire? Refusing to provide details of Clearwire’s cash needs, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse failed to exhibit confidence in the team’s long-term success Wed, although he did cite a key advantage he believes Sprint owns beyond being the initial 4G market mover. “I think coverage will come ahead of handsets, particularly with respect to Verizon,” said Hesse. “…if you don’t have the device portfolio it doesn’t do you that much good. So, our real strength is the fact that we have a more mature ecosystem in terms of devices and handsets.” While marketing 4G devices including the HTC Evo and Samsung Epic, three-fifths of Sprint’s 3Q handset sales and upgrades were smartphones. Also, the telco launched 19 4G markets in the Q, including Boston and Pittsburgh, and plans to add important markets such as NYC and L.A. in 4Q. Still, 3G usage exceeds that of 4G on dual devices, and Hesse said the co will “try” to maximize its 1st-mover lead. “I think for a while we will have an advantage in terms of the selection of 4G handsets,” he said. “I won’t say how long, but Verizon is a very capable competitor, and they are investing heavily in this area. So we know they will be on our heels pretty quickly.” Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are partners in Clearwire but have expressed no interest in providing more money to the venture.

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