Clearwire Corp. said it will discuss the unsolicited offer with Dish. However Sprint, which owns 51 percent of Clearwire, said it would have to sign off on Dish's offer and that it does not intend to do so.
Under the proposed deal, Dish Network Corp. would buy about 24 percent of Clearwire's spectrum assets for $2.2 billion, and Clearwire would build and manage a wireless network for Dish. Dish would also provide up to $800 million in additional financing to the struggling Clearwire.
In December Sprint Nextel Corp. offered to buy the remaining 49 percent of the Bellevue, Wash., company for $2.90 per share. It later raised the offer to $2.97 per share, or $2.2 billion. Sprint is third-largest U.S. cellphone company and it depends on Clearwire to provide high speed Sprint 4G data services on some of its phones. Some of Clearwire's shareholders oppose the sale, saying Clearwire could get a better price.
Dish Network, which is based in Englewood, Colo., confirmed it made the offer and said it is looking forward to discussions with Clearwire. Sprint said its offer is superior because the Dish bid includes a variety of connected commercial agreements and debt and equity purchases in addition to the spectrum sale. The Overland Park, Kan., company added that it would have to voluntarily waive its rights as a Clearwire shareholder and said it has contracts with Clearwire that predate its purchase of part of the company.
Both Sprint and Nextel have been struggling financially, but Sprint recently agreed to sell 70 percent of itself to Softbank Corp. in a deal worth about $20 billion. Clearwire shares jumped on that news as investors concluded that Sprint would offer to buy Clearwire. Shares of Clearwire were trading at $1.30 at the time.
Clearwire's main asset is vast swaths of wireless spectrum, or space on the airwaves, that could be used to provide high data download speeds. Those are a crucial competitive factor in today's wireless industry. However, Clearwire's frequencies are difficult to use: they require many cell towers to cover an area, and the signals don't penetrate well into buildings.