Dish drops bid for Clearwire, ending brutal bidding war

By pulling out, the satellite company is clearing the way for Sprint to take over Clearwire and its spectrum assets

Dish Network has dropped its offer to buy Clearwire, probably clearing the path for a strengthened Sprint Nextel to complete its takeover of the struggling but spectrum-rich mobile operator.

Both SoftBank's US$21.6 billion acquisition of Sprint and Sprint's buyout of Clearwire are now on track for completion in early July, with the main remaining hurdle being U.S. Federal Communications Commission approval of the SoftBank-Sprint transaction. Together, those deals will create a stronger competitor to Verizon Wireless and AT&T, with fewer than half the subscribers but nearly twice the radio spectrum in major metropolitan areas, analysts say.

Dish drew Sprint into a bidding war for Clearwire in early January and dramatically drove up the price that Sprint would pay for its long-time network partner. Sprint's latest bid, which Clearwire's management accepted late last week, is $5 per share. That's up from its original offer of $2.90 per share late last year.

The satellite TV and Internet provider also attempted to buy Sprint itself, eventually pushing up the sum SoftBank would pay for the nation's third-largest carrier. Dish pulled out of bidding for Sprint last week.

Sprint already owns just over half of Clearwire, which has provided the network for Sprint's 4G WiMax service but has struggled financially since it was formed in 2008. Clearwire is expected to be a key asset for the new Sprint, which will use the company's spectrum to bolster its LTE service. Clearwire is already building an LTE network that Sprint has been planning to use in conjunction with its own.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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