NEW YORK -- Satellite TV provider Dish Network is offering to buy wireless network operator Clearwire -- which agreed to sell itself to Sprint in December -- for $3.30 per share, or $5.15 billion.
Clearwire 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 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 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 the 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.
Shares of Clearwire rose 2 cents to $2.92 Tuesday and climbed 27 cents, or 9.3 percent, to $3.19 in after-hours trading. Sprint shares gained a penny to $5.97 during the day and lost 14 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $5.83 aftermarket. Dish Network shares were unchanged in late trading after closing at $35.97, down 37 cents.
Both Sprint and Nextel have been struggling financially, but Sprint recently agreed to sell 70 percent of itself to Softbank 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.