RealTime IT News

AT&T Wireless Seeks More Bidders

AT&T Wireless has solicited an acquisition bid from minority stakeholder NTT DoCoMo in an effort to increase the field of suitors and its selling price, according to regulatory filings.

The company is also reportedly weighing a $30 billion cash offer from Cingular, the mobile joint venture between SBC and BellSouth .

DoCoMo already owns 16 percent of AT&T Wireless. Yesterday, the Japanese mobile carrier agreed to temporarily waive its right to be notified about takeover bids for AT&T Wireless -- a procedural move to avoid conflicts-of-interest with other bidders.

A spokesman for AT&T Wireless declined to elaborate on the process, while a spokesperson for DoCoMo could not be reached by presstime.

In a statement, DoCoMo said it "entered into the agreement in order to preserve a broad set of options and has not made any decision to make any proposal to AT&T Wireless at this time."

DoCoMo has 47 million subscribers in Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America.

If it does proceed, it'll have to move quickly. AT&T Wireless has set a Feb. 13 deadline for companies to submit offers and the Redmond, Wash. firm expects to reach a decision by Feb. 29, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper said AT&T's investment bankers notified Cingular, DoCoMo and other potential buyers such as Nextel and Vodafone of the timeline. Another possible buyer is T-Mobile, which is owned by Deutsche Telecom.

Telecom industry watchers at SG Cowen said they weren't surprised by the move to broaden the field and expect a deal to get done. Many have been forecasting the consolidation of the six U.S. mobile market players for years.

"We believe a sale is likely," the firm's analysts said in a note to investors. "The risk of being left out of consolidation should prompt Cingular, T-Mobile and Nextel to all bid seriously."

Strategically, Cingular, which is looking to shore up its customer base, "has the largest strategic imperative," to consummate a deal, SG Cowen said.

If successful, the merger would combine the second-largest (Cingular) and third-largest carriers (AT&T Wireless), resulting in a voice and data subscriber base of about 55 million.

Sensing a takeover, investors have been pumping money into AT&T Wireless stock in recent weeks, despite poor operating results.