Satellite TV provider Dish Network lost its contentious takeover battle with Japan’s SoftBank for Sprint, but the deal-making saga still isn’t over. The question now is: What’s next for Dish?
Dish bid for both Sprint and Clearwire after convincing the US Federal Communications Commission to let it convert wireless spectrum it owned for satellite TV use to cell phone service use. In return, the FCC imposed a 7-year deadline that required Dish to build or buy a cellular network that would cover 70% of the geographic area in which it owned the spectrum.
Sprint shareholders today approved the company’s sale to Japan’s SoftBank, which upped its bid to trump Dish’s offer. In a separate deal, Dish is also unlikely to win against Sprint in the takeover fight for Clearwire. The vote on the Sprint-Clearwire deal isn’t until July, which means Dish could still come back with a higher offer. Still, Sprint’s recent higher offer would make Clearwire an expensive buy for Dish. And many of Clearwire’s big shareholders already favor Sprint’s higher offer and want to finish the deal off quickly.
Another posible acquisition target for Dish is T-Mobile USA, which recently merged with Metro PCS. Dish has also held talks with AT&T and others, none of which have panned out. In other words, Dish is running out of options.
Dish chairman Charlie Ergen is ambitious, feisty and clearly still hungry for a deal, especially because he needs to meet that FCC deadline—which suggests he could turn back to Clearwire. And if you’re Clearwire, it’s good to have Dish join the fray, even if it gets messy, since more competition tends to drive up the bids. Both SoftBank and Sprint had to increase their respective bids to fight off Dish. So even if Dish doesn’t ultimately buy Clearwire, it will still have done Clearwire shareholders a favor.