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The Wall Street Journal says today that Sprint may have found a few private equity buyers or a Latin American carrier to take its Nextel network off its hands. The paper names Cerebus Capital Management and NII Holdings, a carrier with operations in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Chile, as bidders for the Nextel iDEN network. NII also operates an iDEN network. The paper says other private equity firms have expressed interest as well.
However, the deal to acquire Nextel’s assets faces some complications, among them Sprint asking buyers to take $5.4 billion in debt off its hands. That could be a hard sell in today’s tight credit environment, and current Sprint bondholders may step up to block a sale. Other issues include undoing the back-end billing and customer service integration that Sprint spent years to complete.
But if Sprint can unload Nextel, the short-term pain might be worth it for the carrier. The deal to acquire Nextel back in 2005 for $35 billion was one of the largest screw-ups in corporate history. In February, Sprint wrote down almost $30 billion from the failed deal. If Sprint can somehow walk away from such a flub and still remain a viable business, it would be the stuff of history. So let’s see if they can pull this off.