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Sprint inks $480 million deal for U.S. Cellular customers, spectrum

Company will acquire PCS spectrum and about 585,000 customers in the deal.

Sprint is starting to flex some muscle with regional carriers.

The company announced today that it has inked a deal with U.S. Cellular for $480 million. The deal: Sprint will acquire 20MHz of PCS spectrum in the 1900MHz band across Chicago, South Bend, Ind., and Champaign, Ill. Sprint will also get 10Mhz of spectrum in the St. Louis market, as well as 585,000 customers, or about 10 percent of U.S. Cellular's subscriber base.

"Acquiring this spectrum will significantly increase Sprint's network capacity and improve the customer experience in several important Midwest markets including Chicago and St. Louis," Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said today in a statement.

Sprint's acquisition comes against the backdrop of major changes at the company. Sprint announced last month that Japanese technology company Softbank will invest $20.1 billion into its operation to acquire 70 percent of its stock. The move is designed to help Softbank expand internationally and to help Sprint breathe life into its ailing business.

After announcing its Softbank deal, Sprint also took control of Clearwire by acquiring some of that company's stock from another investor, Eagle River Holdings. It was believed that Softbank viewed Clearwire, which offers 4G services to carriers and consumers in select markets, as a high-value target that it wanted to control as part of its deal with Sprint.

Sprint's deal with U.S. Cellular might also be a response to T-Mobile's recent announcement of plans to merge with another regional carrier, MetroPCS. Through that deal, MetroPCS shareholders will get $1.5 billion in cash and own 26 percent of the new operation. T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom will own the remaining 74 percent.

U.S. Cellular is the nation's seventh-largest wireless carrier with over 5.8 million customers in 26 states. Sprint's transaction is subject to regulatory approval and will likely close sometime in the middle of 2013.