AT&T chief fuels rumours of a European move

Oliver Smith
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AT&T has broadcast its interest in a European acquisition, raising hopes that the firm could make a play for telecoms giant Vodafone.

Speaking at an industry conference on Tuesday, chief executive Randall Stephenson said that mobile services in Europe are, “a huge opportunity for somebody”.

Stephenson has previously hinted that he might look to Europe for expansion, which has triggered speculation that Vodafone, EE and O2-owner Telefonica could be targeted by AT&T.

Rumours surrounding a buyout of Vodafone by AT&T have been increasing in recent weeks, as the UK firm presses ahead with its £84bn sale of its Verizon Wireless venture.

When asked on the likelihood of a deal between AT&T and Vodafone, 76 per cent of UK and US investors yesterday indicated that they expect a deal to go ahead during the first half of 2014, according to research from investment bank Macquarie.

Stephenson said it would be easier for telecom operators in Europe to invest in their networks if they were able to buy long term spectrum licenses and if spectrum policies were similar across the region’s countries.

“I know most of the CEOs here and they are pretty smart people who like to earn money for their shareholders. So if the investment case were there they would be doing more,” Stephenson said. “There will need to be a regulatory re-think.”

Currently the UK has some of the most attractive spectrum policies with valuable 4G spectrum coming with an indefinite licence. France and Germany, meanwhile, offer spectrum licences lasting until 2012 and 2016 respectively.

AT&T, America’s second largest telecoms company, currently operates in the European business market where it competes with Vodafone and BT, but it does not yet have a consumer offering.

Vodafone’s share price fell 1.6 per cent yesterday to 215p.