AT&T could be looking to merge with a European carrier this year, WSJ reports

AT&T could be looking to merge with a European carrier this year, WSJ reports

American telecommunications giant AT&T is looking to merge or purchase a new carrier operating in Europe, according to a report published today by the Wall Street Journal.

The company, which offers the largest 4G network in the United States covering 275 million people, as well as the largest international coverage of any US-based wireless carrier, is thought to be feeling constrained in its domestic market, and wants to expand elsewhere in order to pursue further growth.

Any sort of deal, partnership or acquisition, however, could be a long way off. The Wall Street Journal believes that AT&T is currently “studying” other targets, implying that they may not have started any formal talks just yet. Of course, this isn’t the first time that AT&T has targeted an aquisition of another wireless network operator. In 2011, the company was looking to buy Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile USA, but eventually withdrew its application.

One source cited by the Wall Street Journal article though claims that a deal, if it happens at all, “could come before the end of the year,” suggesting that AT&T may be moving quicker than anticipated.

Europe is a fragmented region though, with mobile providers often operating in entirely separate countries. An anonymous source has told the Wall Street Journal that top executives at AT&T are “debating whether a move abroad would make sense,” in particular for major European markets such as the United Kingdom, Germany, or the Netherlands.

EE, formerly known as Everything Everywhere, operates Orange, T-Mobile and the new 4G network EE in the United Kingdom; it’s understood to be one of the wireless carriers on AT&T’s radar, alongside Royal KPN NV, a Dutch landline and mobile telecommunications company.

International expansion in any form would be a huge move for AT&T, increasing both its scale and influence in the telecommunications industry. There is always the danger, however, that pulling focus away from its domestic market in the United States could cause it to lose expansion opportunities at home.

EE is co-owned by Deutsche Telekom AG and France Telecom SA, which would give AT&T a greater reach and experience in Europe as a whole. In the UK at least, EE has been the first wireless carrier to successfully roll out a 4G network, which will no doubt entice AT&T due to the opportunity to implement more premium pricing schemes.

AT&T and its rival, Verizon Wireless, has a massive stranglehold on the market in the United States at the moment. Earlier this month the company announced a new smartphone sales record, after its unit sales surpassed 10 million during the fourth quarter of 2012. It’s an impressive figure, crushing the previous of 9.4 million set during the same three months in 2011.

It’s also investing an extra $14 billion at the moment to expand its 4G LTE network in the United States. The money will also be used to purchase additional parts of the wireless spectrum, and improve its traditional wireline IP network.

The carrier has sometimes been slow to adopt a contemporary stance on mobile phone usage though – only yesterday the firm announced that it would now be allowing FaceTime calls over cellular connections for any tiered data plan user. It’s a big shift for iPhone owners to say the least, and follows a similar announcement last November that granted access for LTE device customers.

Image Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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