Clearwire's top executive made bold claims at an investor conference today when he said carriers who don't sign up for its wholesale TD-LTE network will be at a competitive disadvantage to those who do decide to use the service.

Operators using Clearwire's still-unbuilt TD-LTE network to supplement their own mobile broadband service will "leapfrog other players who have not come onto our network," President and CEO Erik Prusch said at the annual J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. 

"(Operators) need to find solutions, and I don't think mergers and acquisitions are the way to find solutions," he said. Earlier in the interview, he said that the "key point for them is to get access to gigs at an inexpensive price, at least a comparatively inexpensive price."

Prusch expressed confidence that Clearwire would secure additional wholesale customers for its pending TD-LTE network. "It's a matter of when, not a matter of if," he said. "We expect it to be a 2013 opportunity as our network is coming up."

Clearwire plans to use carrier aggregation technology that will create a channel up to 40 MHz wide for its TD-LTE service, giving it the "fattest pipe in the industry, bar none... with the fastest speeds."

Only two operators have so far said they will use Clearwire's network to add capacity to their own LTE service, Leap Wireless International and Sprint. Sprint has long sold Clearwire's WiMAX service under its own brand but is phasing it out in favor of its own LTE network.

When asked whether an operator like AT&T could be a potential customer, Prusch said "we're not precluding anybody at this point in time" even if they are a primary competitor of Sprint, Clearwire's largest investor.

Clearwire says its initial TD-LTE overlay will cover just 5,000 sites concentrated in urban areas by the middle of next year and will then expand to a total of 8,000 sites, half of the cell sites it currently uses for its WiMAX network. 

Prusch said the buildout will not necessarily stop at the 8,000 mark but did not specify further deployment plans. The overlay network will juice up capacity in what Clearwire has called “hot zones,” versus providing the type of broader coverage offered by its WiMAX network.

Clearwire has yet to say who it will hire to construct its TD-LTE network even as its scheduled launch is just over 12 months away.

"The way I describe it is this is go slow to go fast," Prusch said. "We've spent a lot more time in the planning phase than we did historically with WiMAX." 

A vendor announcement is expected to come in the third quarter, Prusch said, with the actual purchase of equipment occurring in the "back half" of the year.