Shareholders for both Sprint and Nextel Communications yesterday approved the proposed merger that will create the third-largest wireless carrier in the United States.

More than 70% of Nextel’s shareholders voted for the deal in Reston, Va.,, while 96% their Sprint counterparts expressed their approval in Overland Park, Kan. The boards of the two companies in December 2004 announced the planned merger, which is expected to close in the third quarter after receiving expected government approval.

After the deal, the merged entity is expected to have 35.4 million wireless customers.

"This is one heck of a combination," Nextel Chief Executive Tim Donahue said at the shareholder meeting. "I can't wait to compete against the other large-cap telcos."