Sprint to Buy US Unwired

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) has announced a $1.3 billion bid for US Unwired Inc. (Nasdaq: UNWR), an affiliate that serves more than 500,000 of the operator's wireless subscribers in 48 markets, and has been trying to block Sprint's merger with Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL).

The tender offer, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, would give Sprint all of US Unwired's outstanding common stock for $6.25 per share, and take on the affiliate's $233 million debt burden (see Sprint to Acquire US Unwired).

The deal would also require US Unwired to suspend its legal action against the Sprint-Nextel merger. A request for an injunction to stop the deal was due to be heard on July 15.

A spokesman for Sprint describes the acquisition as "a business decision" that will allow it to directly sell and market its products to half a million subscribers in the "sunbelt states," which the spokesman described as having "growth potential."

As of the first quarter of 2005, Sprint had 26 million wireless subscribers. 18.3 million of those are direct Sprint customers, 3.4 million are through affiliates, and the rest are wholesale customers.

Still, some analysts see the deal as more than just a business agreement. "Sprint wants to merge with Nextel and does not want anybody posting injunctions that may delay or jeopardize the deal," writes IDC's director of Mobile and WiFi infrastructure, Shiv Bakhshi, in an email reply to questions.

"It's not that at all," says the Sprint spokesman.

Also, the spokesman didn't completely dismiss the idea that Sprint might acquire other affiliates in the future. "The term would be 'could' as opposed to 'would,' " he says.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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