CHICAGO – When Sprint and Clearwire hooked up last year, the deal had many in the industry scratching their heads. Sprint gave up its coveted 2.5 GHz spectrum on a hugely risky venture, all for a 51 percent stake in a company that proceeded to lose money hand over fist on huge expenses related to the company’s WiMAX network build-out.

Well, apparently they knew what they were doing all along, according to Sprint president of strategic planning Keith Cowan.

“Sprint did not have the size and scale to take on our two larger competitors without doing things differently. … We needed to be innovative, differentiated and disrupted,” Cowan said this morning. “The marriage of beliefs and disruption … is what ultimately brought on the Clearwire deal.”

Building on that, Cowan said this philosophy led Sprint to move away from the closed business model of traditional carriers. Instead, it brought in outside investors Google, Intel, cable operators and shareholders.

“We believed an open ecosystem would accelerate innovation,” said Cowan. “Think of Clearwire as a shared network company: this allows us to focus on core businesses while bringing 4G product innovations to market quickly.”

As for the companies’ forward-looking 4G roadmap, Cowan said that the company is looking to expand into the enterprise space, as well as embedded consumer devices, access solutions, a trimode device and OEM embedded solutions.

As for the industry itself, Cowan said that capacity was the most important issue going forward. “We are no longer worried about the demand side of the equation. Now we’re worried about meeting that demand,” said Cowan “The real challenge is meeting the ever-increasing demand for data, and 3G networks can’t do it, as AT&T is quickly learning.”

More Broadband Direct 09/17/09:
•  Bresnan taps Arris for C4
•  Sprint brings clarity to Clearwire deal
•  Comcast ponders mobile TV
•  Paul Allen to sell wireless licenses to AT&T
•  Hillcrest makes gestural control easy for OEMs
•  ZillionTV goes after consumers
•  Clearwire grabs 2 4G awards
•  Broadband Briefs for 09/17/09