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AT&T Wireless Auction Heats Up

A potential bidding war for AT&T Wireless has been set in motion by a chain of events that may trump Cingular Wireless's bid for the mobile-phone service provider.

A potential bidding war for AT&T Wireless has been set in motion by a chain of events that may trump Cingular Wireless's bid for the mobile-phone service provider.

AT&T Wireless and its equity partner NTT DoCoMo have reached an agreement that would enable DoCoMo to enter the bidding auction.

AT&T Wireless has sent out letters to several prospective bidders instructing them to submit their bids by Feb. 13. DoCoMo owns 17 percent of AT&T Wireless, and two of its representatives sit on the U.S. firm's board. But it was in a bind because it could have been accused of conflict-of-interest if it came to evaluating bids including its own. The new agreement between AT&T Wireless and DoCoMo eliminates the problem.

Even so, DoCoMo remains noncommittal. In a statement Tuesday, the Japanese firm said: "DoCoMo 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."

Wall Street sources have reported that Cingular, which is jointly owned by SBC Communications and BellSouth, has offered $30 billion for AT&T Wireless, whose stock has been in the ascendancy in recent weeks as reports circulated that the firm was an acquisition target. The combination of AT&T Wireless and Cingular would create the nation's largest cell phone provider, with a market share of about 30 percent, leapfrogging Verizon Wireless's 24 percent share.

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