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Sprint buys US Cellular spectrum and half a million Midwest customers for $480 million

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Sprint store (STOCK)
Sprint store (STOCK)

Sprint may soon be acquired by Softbank, but it's making some purchases of its own: it's just spent $480 million for spectrum and customers from regional carrier US Cellular. The deal, which is expected to close in mid-2013, will transfer 585,000 US Cellular subscribers in Chicago, St. Louis, central Illinois, and three other Midwest markets to Sprint. It will also give Sprint 30MHz of spectrum in the 1900MHz band — that's one of the bands Sprint is using for its fledgling LTE network, which just expanded to the Chicago suburbs.

For now, US Cellular customers will remain on their carrier. If the purchase — which still needs to be approved by US regulators — proceeds as expected, they'll be given more information next year. On an FAQ page, US Cellular said it was selling the markets in part because "we aren’t reaching the rate of profitable customer growth we need to justify continuing to make investments." Given that the sale amounts to around 10 percent of its total subscriber base, we wonder if bigger changes are on the way.