Clearwire shareholders agree to Sprint buyout

Clearwire shareholders approved Sprint Nextel’s takeover of their company on Monday, ending a saga that had included years of uncertainty and finally a bidding war for the spectrum-rich wireless network operator.

Sprint co-founded Clearwire and already owned 50.2 percent of its shares. It will now buy out the rest of the company as part of its own takeover by Japanese carrier SoftBank. About 82 percent of the unaffiliated outstanding shares of common stock were voted in favor of Sprint’s deal, exceeding the required 75 percent.

Sprint’s final offer of $5 per share valued Clearwire at $3.5 billion. The final bid was a significant premium over the $2.90 that Sprint first offered when it proposed to buy out the company last December. Aggressive bidding by rival Dish Network helped to drive up Sprint’s price.

Clearwire operates the WiMax network that Sprint still uses for 4G service for some of its customers. It’s also building an LTE network that Sprint intends to use as a supplement to its own LTE infrastructure. But Clearwire’s biggest asset is its spectrum licenses, which cover more than 150MHz of frequencies in most of the major U.S. markets. Those licenses will give Sprint the biggest spectrum holdings of any commercial mobile operator, analysts say.

Sprint’s takeover of Clearwire is expected to close on Tuesday, with the SoftBank-Sprint deal now set to become official on Wednesday. The combination of SoftBank, Sprint and Clearwire may represent a much more competitive rival to the two largest U.S. mobile operators, Verizon and AT&T.

Though they launched the first major 4G network in the U.S. beginning in 2008, Sprint and Clearwire were an uncomfortable fit for much of their approximately five-year partnership. Clearwire has operated a WiMax service under its own brand and served other wholesale customers in addition to Sprint, which has always accounted for most of its business. But Clearwire still struggled financially, and the companies differed over how much Sprint should do to support its partner.

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