Verizon Wireless has offered to pay as much a $1.5 billion to buy spectrum leases from Clearwire Corp., CLWR +2.06% people familiar with the matter said.
The move would give the largest U.S. wireless carrier the right to use airwaves currently controlled by Clearwire in big markets in the U.S. It also further complicates a three-way series of deals in which Clearwire had agreed to sell itself to part-owner Sprint Nextel Corp. S +0.99% and Sprint agreed to sell a controlling stake in itself to Japan's Softbank Corp.
The wireless wars have a new battle as Verizon offers to pay as much as $1.5 billion to buy spectrum leases from Clearwire. Sharon Terlep reports.
Adding another twist, Sprint now has become the subject of a rival takeover offer from Dish Network Corp. DISH +0.95%
Verizon's offer, as well as Sprint's bid to buy the rest of Clearwire, highlights how the U.S.'s biggest carriers are trying to lock up the airwaves needed to carry fast-growing volumes of wireless data as more subscribers switch to devices like Apple Inc.'s AAPL +1.12% iPhone.
Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. T +0.14% already control many of the best airwaves in the U.S. On Friday, the Justice Department warned in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission that big carriers shouldn't be allowed to corner future auctions of high-quality spectrum.
Clearwire disclosed the offer in a securities filing on Friday but only identified the bidder as "Party J." People familiar with the matter confirmed it was Verizon. The price would be reduced by the value of what Clearwire owes in lease payments for the spectrum, an amount that could be substantial, the company said in the filing.
Clearwire owns some spectrum but it leases other spectrum from third parties so it can offer a nationwide network. Verizon Wireless hasn't made an offer for spectrum that Clearwire owns.
It is unclear whether Verizon Wireless, which is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. VZ +0.43% and Vodafone Group VOD.LN -0.58% PLC, has any ambitions with Clearwire beyond the spectrum purchase or how it might fit in with Sprint's agreement to buy the roughly 50% of Clearwire it doesn't already own. Clearwire said in the filing that it would evaluate the proposal and discuss it with "Party J" and Sprint.