BellSouth, SBC to Merge Wireless Operations

BellSouth and SBC Communications plan to combine their wireless operations, creating the country's second-largest mega-carrier, with close to a nationwide reach.

Atlanta-based BellSouth and San Antonio-based SBC announced their plans this morning. That's just one day after Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic and U.K.-based Vodafone Air Touch formally launched their combined wireless operation, Verizon Wireless, after receiving formal approval from the Federal Communications Commission last week. Verizon is the nation's largest cellular service provider.

The combined BellSouth/SBC would serve 16.2 million current subscribers in 40 out of 50 of the nation's top wireless markets, with a potential of 175 million customers. The combined operation will also include BellSouth Wireless Data, which operates a nationwide wireless packet data network that offers e-mail services over the hand-held Blackberry terminal widely embraced by corporate users.

The Bell Atlantic/Vodafone network, including the wireless assets of Irving, Texas-based GTE Corp., which Bell Atlantic plans to acquire, serves 24 million wireless customers and 4 million paging customers. The network covers 96 of the top 100 markets, with 232 million potential customers.

SBC Chairman Edward Whitacre said in a statement this morning that the joint venture with Bell South will create a "bigger, stronger, more capable national competitor" that will provide customers with "a more powerful wireless provider, capable of quickly rolling out state-of-the-art data services."

SBC will control 60 percent of the new company formed to operate the combined wireless assets.

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