Dish Gives Up Fight for Clearwire

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Once Japan’s SoftBank received stockholder approval for its acquisition of Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S), it was only a matter of time before Dish Network Corp. (NASDAQ: DISH) gave up its bid for Clearwire Corp. (NASDAQ: CLWR), which had approved a buyout by Sprint at $5 a share. The time came late today.

In a brief announcement, Dish said it was withdrawing its tender offer of $4.40 a share for all the outstanding shares of Clearwire following the Clearwire board’s recommendation to accept the Sprint offer.

The question now is what will Dish and its poker-playing chairman Charlie Ergen do now. T-Mobile US Inc. (NYSE: TMUS) might be available, and its market cap of around $3.5 billion is a lot more doable than Sprint’s $21 billion or so. But T-Mobile doesn’t have the spectrum assets that Clearwire has. That was where the value lay for Dish.

Neither T-Mobile nor Leap Wireless International Inc. (NASDAQ: LEAP) comes close. The only realistic play could be the remnants of LightSquared, the most valuable of which are 59 MHz of spectrum that may or may not be able to overcome the interference issues that have essentially killed the company. If Dish can figure out a way actually to use that bandwidth, the company will have up to about 100 MHz of wireless bandwidth, more than either AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) or Verizon Wireless. But that’s really a gamble.

Dish shares are flat in after-hours trading today, at $40.20 in a 52-week range of $26.12 to $41.11.

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