Dish Network said on Thursday that it was withdrawing its offer for Clearwire, ensuring that Clearwire will be acquired by Sprint Nextel.
Dish and Sprint were embroiled in a furious back and forth over the 4G wireless provider, but Sprint had taken control after raising its offer above Dish's own offer for a second time last week, winning the backing of major Clearwire shareholders.
Dish had sought to insert itself into what looked like a regular roll-up of Sprint and Clearwire by Japanese carrier SoftBank. Dish initially had its sights on Clearwire, which provides 4G wireless services to Sprint through a partnership. Clearwire's only real customer is Sprint, which also owns half of Clearwire's stock. But Dish then considered buying Sprint itself in a $25 billion unsolicited bid that would marry satellite TV with cellular service.
Dish's presence in the soap opera has been costly. SoftBank revised its bid for Sprint to offer a better payout to Sprint shareholders, forcing Dish to withdraw from that attempt.
But Dish appeared to be more serious about Clearwire, twice countering Sprint's attempt to sweeten the bid. After Sprint and Clearwire agreed to a deal at $2.97 a share, Dish countered with a surprise bid of $3.30 a share. When Sprint raised its bid to $3.40 a share, Dish countered with an offer that was $1 a share higher.
Sprint went so far as to file a lawsuit against Dish after its last offer before ultimately reneging on Sprint CEO Dan Hesse's promise of a "best and final" offer and upping its bid again to $5 a share, or a massive $14 billion valuation.
The Clearwire shareholders appear to be the biggest winners. The company, which essentially has one wholesale customer in Sprint and a small consumer business, was previously written off before Dish came in and re-energized interest in the asset. Clearwire had long provided the WiMax service that Sprint touted as its 4G service. But Sprint has slowly phased it out in favor of its own LTE network. Clearwire's spectrum, however, is considered valuable and plays a key role in SoftBank's vision of Sprint.