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Battle for Clearwire heats up as Sprint increases its bid

Sprint has increased its bid for Clearwire to $5 a share in the hopes of forcing satellite TV provider Dish Network to drop out of the race.

Sprint is a hot commodity right now.
Marguerite Reardon/CNET

The fight for Clearwire is heating up as Sprint has increased its bid for the company in light of a recent increase by rival Dish Network, which also wants to buy the nationwide wireless broadband carrier.

On Thursday, Sprint announced it is increasing its bid to acquire the remaining shares it doesn't already own to $5 a share. Clearwire's special committee and board of directors are now recommending to shareholders that they reject Dish Network's offer and instead consider the offer from Sprint.

In May, Dish Network increased its bid for the company to $4.40 per share in cash, which was $1 more than Sprint's supposed final offer. Last week, Clearwire's special committee and board of directors recommended that shareholders take Dish's offer. Sprint filed a lawsuit against Dish earlier this week claiming its bidding is violating state law.

Sprint announced in December that it reached an agreement with Clearwire to buy the remaining 50 percent stake it doesn't already own in the company. The price at that time was $2.97 per share, or $2.2 billion. Dish Network countered with a surprise bid of $3.30 per share, or $5.15 billion.

In May, Sprint increased its bid to $3.40 a share. At the time, Sprint called this its best and final offer. Two days before Clearwire's shareholders were scheduled to vote on Sprint's offer, Dish increased its bid again by $1 a share.

As all this has been happening, Sprint is also being pursued for acquisition. Last year, Japan's Softbank offered to pay $20.1 billion for Sprint. Dish then threw in its own unsolicited bid. Last week Softbank raised its offer to $21.5 billion. But now it looks like Dish is backing away from its pursuit of Dish. Earlier this week, Dish said it would back down from its pursuit of Sprint in an effort to focus resources on acquiring Clearwire.

Both Sprint and Dish Network are hoping to get their hands on Clearwire's large swath of 2.5GHz wireless spectrum. For Sprint, the idea is mostly to simplify its relationship with Clearwire. Sprint has been a majority shareholder in the company, and it has been using the carrier's 4G WiMax to deliver service for several years. As Sprint builds its next generation of 4G LTE, it sees value in controlling all of Clearwire's spectrum.

Dish Network, which primarily provides satellite TV service, is also looking to build a 4G LTE network. The company already owns AWS spectrum, which the Federal Communications Commission has reclassified so that the company can use it to deliver mobile 4G LTE services. The company's pursuit of Sprint and its spectrum holdings, would have played well with that part of the company's strategy.

The reason why Dish wants Clearwire is to provide fixed wireless broadband services. The company is currently testing such a service in rural Virginia using spectrum from various partners. What makes Clearwire a good fit for Dish is that the spectrum Dish is using to build this fixed wireless network is in the same 2.5GHz spectrum band that Clearwire uses for its network.

Shareholders are supposed to meet on June 24 for a special meeting. But the company said in a statement Thursday that the meeting is expected to take place, but will be adjourned with no business conducted. The company will reconvene the meeting on July 8 in Bellevue, Wash.