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Ahead of the Bell: Clearwire soars on Dish bid

NEW YORK (AP) -- Clearwire Corp. shares soared before Thursday's opening bell after satellite TV operator Dish Network Corp. boosted its bid for the wireless network operator.

Dish's bid of $4.40 in cash, which values Clearwire at $6.9 billion, is 29 percent higher than Sprint Nextel Corp.'s bid of $3.40 per share. Sprint wants to buy the half of Clearwire that it doesn't already own and Clearwire shareholders are set to vote Friday on that deal.

Dish previously bid $3.30 per share for the company.

In premarket trading, Clearwire shares jumped 66 cents, or 19 percent, to $4.14.

The news prompted Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss to boost his rating for Clearwire stock to "Market Perform" from "Underperform," noting that even before Dish's new bid, Sprint was having trouble getting enough shareholders to vote in favor of its offer.

"We believe following Dish's latest gambit there is a very good chance Clearwire shareholders will not approve the current Sprint bid (and the vote may be postponed again)," Prentiss wrote in a note to investors. "Dish wants a seat at the wireless table very badly and said it remains committed to the commercialization of Clearwire's spectrum."

Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said Clearwire's wireless spectrum — space on the airwaves — is key to Dish being able to deliver future services. Ergen wrote in an open letter to Clearwire Chairman John Stanton that Dish's bid is "a meaningfully superior alternative" to Sprint's offer.

Overland Park, Kan.-based Sprint is Clearwire's only major wholesale customer, and uses its network to provide "Sprint 4G" service. Dish, eager to get into the wireless business, has also offered to buy Sprint for $25.5 billion, but it is competing in that bid with Japanese wireless phone carrier Softbank.