Last-minute figures killed bid for AT&TW, says Vodafone's Sarin

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The mobile phone operator Vodafone was forced to reconsider its takeover bid for AT&T Wireless after receiving new information on the US business at the eleventh hour.

Arun Sarin, the company's chief executive, said he got a telephone call from John Zeglis, the chief executive of AT&T Wireless, at 2am on Tuesday - just hours after the deadline for offers had passed.

"We were advised of some numbers that were weaker, and we frankly needed some time to consider them. It was very unusual. We were quite surprised. We knew the business was weak, but we didn't know how weak," Mr Sarin said in an interview.

He would not comment on the precise nature of the information but said it was more than the weak trading figures for January, when AT&TW lost 4 per cent of its customers.

While Mr Sarin was mulling his options, after requesting more time, he took another call from Mr Zeglis, telling him that Cingular had won the race for the business with a $41bn offer.

In any case, sources say Mr Sarin had already put forward his best offer and was not prepared to top that. "They hit their limit and there was no prospect of an improved offer and then they got these figures," said one person close to the company.

Mr Sarin also insisted that Vodafone was very happy with its relationship with its current US partner, Verizon, ruling out bidding for another, smaller US mobile operation.