Dish counters Sprint with higher bid for Clearwire

The $3.30-per-share offer could set off a bidding war between two companies already at odds over spectrum

Dish Network has offered to buy Clearwire for $3.30 per share, throwing a wrench in Sprint Nextel's deal to buy its mobile broadband partner for $2.97 per share.

Clearwire disclosed Dish's offer in a press release on Tuesday afternoon, saying it has an obligation to consider the offer.

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Sprint owns almost half of Clearwire's stock, and on Dec. 17, the two companies reached a deal for Sprint to buy the rest of the company. Sprint still delivers 4G service to many of its customers over Clearwire's WiMax network. If the deal goes through, Sprint plans to use Clearwire's large spectrum holdings to supplement its LTE network. The Sprint deal depends on Softbank's $20 billion bid for most of Sprint going through.

Dish's bid could set off a bidding war for Clearwire, which has some of the biggest spectrum holdings of any U.S. carrier. Clearwire holds about 160MHz of spectrum in many major U.S. markets, though its frequencies are in high bands that are not of prime quality for mobile broadband.

Some Clearwire shareholders have objected to Sprint's offer, saying the company's spectrum holdings alone are worth several times the roughly $2.2 billion that Sprint is offering for the company.

Dish is a satellite TV company that has obtained approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to use some of its satellite spectrum for terrestrial mobile service. It was already at odds with Sprint before making its bid for Clearwire, because Sprint won spectrum rule changes from the FCC that diminished Dish's ability to use its new cellular spectrum.

Before Dish offered to buy Clearwire, it had offered to buy some of the company's spectrum, at substantially the same pricing, Clearwire disclosed in its press release.

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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