Ericsson: Inks Outsourcing Deal With Clearwire; Interested In Nortel IP?

This is Ericsson’s week to be in the spotlight for U.S. news, it seems. The company has just announced a deal to take on the running of Clearwire’s network, while separately the Swedish company is named as the latest to be interested in the trove of wireless patents being sold by the bankrupt Nortel for potentially $1 billion or more.

Today Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR) and Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC) announced a major outsourcing deal for the running of Clearwire’s network.

Under the terms of the deal, some 700 Clearwire employees are getting transferred to Ericsson, although Clearwire will maintain ownership of the network. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the companies.

Ericsson has been one of the trailblazers in the movement among operators to outsource network management. It already has a similar outsourcing deal with Sprint (NYSE: S), part-owner of Clearwire.

The move will free up Clearwire significantly in terms of operating expenses, which might go some way to helping the company finance the buildout of the rest of its 4G network. The company has been under the financial gun for months already, although a trip to the debt markets, and a wholesale deal with Sprint signed last month, may have eased some of the biggest cash concerns at the operator.

Clearwire has also been curtailing some of its bigger ambitions, such as developing a branded smartphone business.

This coincidentally brought it into contact with Ericsson in another way: *Sony* Ericsson (of which Ericsson is a part owner, along with Sony) had been suing Clearwire over the similarity of its logos, something that was particularly worrying for Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson in the event that Clearwire went ahead with own-branded smartphones.

That suit, conveniently, was withdrawn earlier this week.

“Two totally unrelated things,” a spokesperson for Clearwire tells us.

Wireless patents: Separately, sources tell BusinessWeek that Ericsson is considering a bid for the wireless patent portfolio from the bankrupt Nortel Networks.

Adding in Ericsson, that would bring the total number of would-be bidders to five, with the others said to be interested including Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Morotola, Samsung and patent vendor RPX.

The patents, which cover everything from wireless networking to touch screens and search, are expected to fetch up to $1 million in a market that has become increasingly litigious, and therefore guarded, over wireless IP.