Sprint shareholders approve SoftBank's $21.6B buyout

The deal is expected to reinvigorate the biggest rival to AT&T and Verizon Wireless

Sprint Nextel shareholders have voted overwhelmingly to approve SoftBank's $21.6 billion takeover bid, setting the stage for the deal to close early next month.

At a special shareholder meeting on Tuesday, 98 percent of the shares voted were in favor of the deal, representing 80 percent of all Sprint's stock, according to a Sprint press release. The approval followed a bidding war between SoftBank and Dish Network, the satellite service provider that dropped out of the race last week.

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SoftBank will pay $7.64 per share, for a total of $16.64 billion in cash, and invest about $5 billion of new capital into Sprint. It will own 78 percent of the new company. The Japanese suitor modified its original bid earlier this month amid Dish's competing overtures. The final offer gives shareholders more cash but doesn't inject as much new capital into Sprint.

The deal still needs to be approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, but Sprint and SoftBank expect it to close on schedule in early July.

However, a key piece of SoftBank's plans for Sprint remains in question as Dish continues its attempt to buy a stake in Clearwire, the spectrum-rich Sprint network partner that Sprint is also trying to buy. Last week, Clearwire and Sprint said they had agreed to Sprint's latest offer of $5 per share, but that deal still awaits a shareholder vote on July 8.

SoftBank's acquisition and investment in Sprint is expected to help the third-largest U.S. mobile operator better compete against the two dominant carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The acquisition of Clearwire, which has approximately 160MHz of spectrum in major markets and is building an LTE network intended to complement Sprint's, is a critical part of that new competitive effort.

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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