Sprint, SoftBank Triumph Over Dish

Dish Networks finally throws in the towel and abandons its attempt to buy both Clearwire and Sprint.

Eric Zeman

June 27, 2013

3 Min Read
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Apple iOS 7's Dramatic Design: Visual Tour

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Sprint finally has its victory. This week, competitor Dish Networks formally admitted to defeat in its attempt to change the course of wireless in the U.S. by buying both Sprint and Clearwire. The victory was nine months in the making, and will set Sprint on a new road where it will be better able to compete with AT&T and Verizon, the nation's leading wireless providers.

In October, Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank proposed to purchase a 70% equity stake in Sprint for $20.1 billion. In December, Sprint launched its own bid to acquire ailing Clearwire, of which it already owned just over 50%. Sprint wants to own Clearwire outright in order to smooth out the transaction with SoftBank, but also to gain control over its massive 2.5-GHz spectrum holdings.

Dish Networks threw a wrench into Sprint's plans in January, when it made its own bid for Clearwire. Sprint had bid $2.97 per share, but Dish offered $3.30 per share. At the same time, Sprint faced backlash from Clearwire investors who were unhappy with Sprint's offer.

Dish further complicated matters in April, when it made a surprise $25.5 billion bid for Sprint itself. SoftBank gave Sprint permission to go through the due diligence process in order to evaluate Dish's offer, but maintained that its offer was superior. At the same time, Dish petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to halt its review of the Sprint-SoftBank deal.

[ Tired of waiting for the latest mobile OS? Read ACLU Seeks Carrier Smackdown Over Android Updates. ]

In May, Sprint upped its bid for Clearwire to $3.40 per share, besting Dish's offer. Dish responded by leapfrogging Sprint's new offer with its own of $4.40 per share. Sprint was outraged and called Dish's tactics illegal.

In June, things really heated up. Sprint improved its offer for Clearwire to $5.00 per share, a 66% increase from its initial offer of just under $3 per share. Dish made a tender offer for Clearwire's shares, and was promptly sued by Sprint. SoftBank also upped its offer for Sprint from $20.1 billion to $21.6 billion. Clearwire couldn't match that, and ceased its attempt to buy Sprint on June 18.

Finally, on June 26, Dish surrendered and rescinded its tender offer for Clearwire, officially giving up the fight for control of Clearwire and Sprint.

The drama is finally over, and Sprint can move on. What happens next?

Clearwire's board of directors has approved Sprint's improved bid, and Sprint's shareholders have approved SoftBank's improved bid. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice, and Federal Bureau of Investigation have all greenlighted the deal. It has only one hurdle left to pass: the FCC is evaluating the competitive impact SoftBank's equity acquisition of Sprint will have on the U.S. wireless market. The FCC hasn't said when it will make its final determination, but SoftBank is confident it will close the deal during the first half of July.

Once closed, SoftBank will infuse Sprint with cash, which it intends to put towards its LTE 4G network rollout and many other network-related capital improvements.

Sprint has about 60 million customers, while AT&T and Verizon Wireless each have more than 100 million. Sprint wants to close the gap with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and its fresh amount of capital might help it do just that.

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