Sprint, Leaning Toward Softbank Deal, Continues Talks With Dish

Softbank has given Sprint the go-ahead to disclose non-public information to Dish,  as Sprint considers which is the "superior offer."

Softbank has granted Sprint a "waiver of various provisions" on their merger agreement, allowing Sprint to disclose non-public information to Dish Network, which is competing with Softbank to seal a merger agreement with Sprint.

The waiver also allows Sprint to "engage with Dish in discussions and negotiations," Sprint said in a May 21 statement.

It added that its agreement with Softbank allows it to—with a few strings attached—back out of the deal, should it receive a "superior offer." The Sprint board of directors, however, has yet to determine whether Dish's offer indeed fits that bill.

In Oct. 15, 2012, Softbank and Sprint announced a deal in which Softbank would acquire a 70 percent share of Sprint for $20.1 billion. In addition to cash that Sprint needs to build out its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, which is well behind the efforts of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, Softbank can offer Sprint considerable expertise in LTE efficiencies. The scale of the combined companies could also lead to better and less-expensive devices for subscribers.

On April 15, Dish Network offered Sprint $25.5 billion to merge with it instead.

Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen argued, during a call with analysts that day, that Dish's and Sprint's complementary assets would enable them to offer what no other company in the industry currently does.

"You want to be in your home with video, broadband and data and voice, and you want to be outside your home with those same things," said Ergen. "While the cable industry does a really good job in your home, and the current wireless industry does a really good job outside your home, there's really no one company on a national scale that puts it all together. The new Dish-Sprint will do that."

Ergen added that the deal would be the culmination of the various deals Dish has made over the years—the deal that sheds new light on all that came before it. (Ergen likes to call this his "Seinfeld strategy," for the way that seemingly random plot points are brought into focus in the last few minutes of the show.)

Softbank CEO and Chairman Masayoshi Son has called the Dish deal "incomplete and illusory," overly complicated and a poorer return for Sprint's shareholders. During an April 30 presentation, Son said he was confident that the Softbank deal—on which the parties had already put in eight months' worth of work—would deliver "superior value."

Sprint, in its May 20 announcement, added that its board's recommendation, in favor of the Softbank deal, hasn't changed.

Sprint also announced the same day that it has acquired Handmark and its subsidiary OneLouder Apps, a mobile app developer and advertising company. Both, like Sprint, are based in Kansas.

Mike Cooley, vice president of New Ventures at Sprint, said that bringing Sprint's long-time partners in-house is an "exciting move, as we position Sprint for market leadership in emerging products and services."

In the last few days, Sprint also announced that it had completed its deal to acquire some spectrum and customers in the Midwest from U.S. Cellular.

Sprint is also trying to buy out the just-less-than 50 percent of spectrum-rich Clearwire that it doesn't already own. Both Dish and Softbank have said their offers aren't contingent on the Sprint-Clearwire deal going through. Dish, before propositioning Sprint, also put an offer on the table for Clearwire, which isn't expected to be approved.