NTT DoCoMo of Japan stepped forward yesterday as the first potential buyer of AT&T Wireless to acknowledge its interest formally, increasing the likelihood that Cingular Wireless may encounter a bidding war in its attempt acquire the third largest US cell phone company.
The Japanese wireless company, which already owns a 16 per cent stake in AT&T Wireless, also disclosed in a US federal filing that AT&T Wireless has apparently set a deadline of 13 February for any would-be acquirers to submit offers.
Cingular Wireless,controlled by the US telecoms giants BellSouth and SBC Communciations, is believed to have tabled a $30bn offer for AT&T Wireless.
Vodafone is thought to have considered a counterbid, although the UK group's chief executive, Arun Sarin, again declined to comment yesterday when asked at a conference about any bid from the UK mobile phone giant.
In a statement, DoCoMo said it is temporarily waiving its rights under a prior agreement as a major AT&T Wireless investor to be advised on any proposed transaction between AT&T Wireless and another company. DoCoMo agreed to waive those rights after being notified last week that "AT&T Wireless desired to invite DoCoMo to submit a proposal" as it solicited bids, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A source familiar with the discussions said DoCoMo did not make the decision "lightly", a sign that Cingular may face at least one serious obstacle in its reportedly formal offer to acquire AT&T Wireless.
So far, there's been no official confirmation of the bid from either Cingular or its corporate parents.
Cingular, Vodafone and DoCoMo have all chosen the same technological path as AT&T Wireless, which makes AT&T Wireless an attractive merger partner for all three. In Cingular's case, a merger would fill some gaping holes in that company's national network.
For DoCoMo and Vodafone, both of which have operations in numerous countries, AT&T Wireless would extend their reach to a key market. However, a Vodafone deal would be complex because of the British company's 45 per cent stake in US rival Verizon Wireless.
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