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Clearwire's Q4 preview: Revenue doubles on customer growth

The company is on surer financial footing with cash on its balance sheet, revenue gains, and wholesale customer growth. Full results are expected in the coming weeks.

It appears Clearwire's got some of its confidence back.

The 4G WiMax service provider has released select preliminary results from its fourth quarter, including revenue that was double that of a year ago--$362 million, compared with the year-ago $181 million. The upswing was primarily driven by growth in its wholesale business.

The figure exceeded analysts' average estimate of $355 million in revenue for the period, according to a survey taken by Thomson Reuters.

Clearwire is likely breathing a sigh of relief after several months of uncertainty over its ability to obtain the needed financing to continue its operations, including the threat of not meeting its obligations last month. Sprint Nextel, Clearwire's largest shareholder and customer, swooped in at the last minute with a financial package and new wholesale agreement that gives the company some financial flexibility.

The Bellevue, Wash., company reported adding a net 900,000 wholesale customers in the fourth quarter. In total, it has a base of 10.4 million customers, which includes 1.3 million retail subscribers. Clearwire has largely given up its plans to add new retail customers, instead relying on its wholesale business for growth.

Clearwire's rate of customer turnover, however, rose from a year ago. Its wholesale turnover rate rose to 2.9 percent from 1.4 percent a year ago, while its retail turnover nudged up to 3.9 percent from 3.8 percent.

Although Clearwire for years had the advantage of the most advanced and fastest wireless network, that lead has disappeared as Verizon Wireless and AT&T have begun deploying newer and faster 4G LTE networks. Verizon in particular has outstripped Clearwire, having rolled its network to far more markets and people. Even Sprint, which has largely leaned on Clearwire for its 4G service, is moving ahead with its own LTE plans and will launch its first markets by the first half of this year.

Clearwire has its own plans to move to LTE, but required funding to do so. That's been addressed by Sprint.

The company later said it had priced $300 million in debt, and expects to close the offering by Friday.

Still, its current WiMax network isn't slacking off. Clearwire said 4G network usage increased by 165 percent in 2011, with usage rising 22 percent in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter.

Clearwire said it expects fourth-quarter adjusted earnings before income tax, depreciation, and amortization to be positive and to improve sequentially over the third-quarter adjusted EBITDA loss.

Having been cash-strapped for most of the year, Clearwire ended 2011 with $1.11 billion in cash and cash equivalents.

The company plans to release full results in the coming weeks.

Updated at 1:54 p.m. PT: to include details on Clearwire's debt offering.