Vodafone waits for an answer from AirTouch

CHRIS GENT, Vodafone's chief executive, will today meet other senior directors of the mobile phone operator as it awaits a response to its proposed $55bn merger with AirTouch, its US rival.

Mr Gent yesterday flew back from New Zealand, where he had been at a board meeting after watching Australia defeat England in the fifth Test match. Meanwhile Ken Hydon, Vodafone's finance director, has returned from New York, where he met senior AirTouch executives to discuss the offer.

AirTouch is expected to respond to the proposed merger within the next two weeks. However, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, the investment bank advising AirTouch, is still trying to solicit higher bids.

Bell Atlantic is considering whether to raise its original $43bn offer, but it is unclear whether the former Baby Bell could justify matching Vodafone's offer. MCI WorldCom has ruled itself out of the running.

City sources were yesterday playing down reports that British Telecom might enter the fray. BT - which will probably be overtaken by Vodafone in terms of market capitalisation if the merger goes ahead - has agreed not to compete with AT&T, its international partner, in its home market. AT&T currently operates the only national mobile phone network in the US.

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