Sprint Nextel has increased it ownership in Clearwire and now has a 50.8 percent stake in the company, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
The news comes after Japanese operator Softbank announced on Monday a US$20 billion bid for a 70 percent stake in Sprint. If that deal is approved, it will give Sprint $8 billion in new capital that is to be used to improve its finances and infrastructure.
There's probably enough money in that $8 billion pot for Sprint to buy Clearwire outright, Roger Entner of Recon Analytics said earlier this week. Clearwire is worth about $4.3 billion, and the long-term plan for Sprint was always to buy out Clearwire, according to Entner.
The U.S. operator market is going through some big changes, which also include T-Mobile's bid to buy MetroPCS.
At its core, these deals aim to position the involved operators in the best possible way as networks based on LTE are built out. The key to doing that going forward is access to as much spectrum as possible, and Clearwire has well over 100MHz of frequencies in most markets.
The more spectrum an operator has, the faster speeds it will be able to offer its subscribers.
Also, the next generation of LTE, dubbed LTE Advanced, will use a technology called carrier aggregation to increase speeds. The technology will allow operators to bunch together spectrum in different bands and use them as one data link, which will make spectrum holdings in disparate bands even more valuable.
The increase in ownership was possible thanks to the acquisition of shares from wireless pioneer Craig McCaw's, who founded Clearwire's predecessor company, investment company Eagle River Holdings