For some strange reason NTT DoCoMo seems reluctant to sink more cash into loss-making AT&T Wireless – the most grumbled about carrier in the North American market – two years after seeing the value of its $8 billion investment in the “struggling” carrier come to zilch. At least DoCoMo has a footprint in the U.S. market, well one anyway, a demonstration room with a FOMA (Freedom tO Move Away from AT&T?) base station.
DoCoMo said yesterday that it was temporarily waiving its rights under a prior agreement as a major AT&T Wireless investor to be advised and consulted on any proposed transaction between AT&T Wireless and another company that would alter DoCoMo’s ownership interest, or lack of interest.
Through the waiver, DoCoMo can see See No Evil, Hear No Evil…and avoid being wrapped up in the Evil that AT&T might be committing by getting snapped up by someone else.
That’s because Cingular/ SBC Communications/ BellSouth Corp. is rumored to be potentially offering up $30 billion in for a bid for AT&T after the company disclosed it wants to partner, merge, or get bought out by someone with cash. Vodafone is also rumored to be poking around. Now that would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Meanwhile DoCoMo has a 16% stake in AT&T and is understandably unhappy about anyone else taking control of the company, which might then put a spanner in any putative W-CDMA buildout.
Or is it?
Of course, there is another side to this story too, as a good friend has just pointed out; if AT&T doesn’t roll out 3G this year in at least some cities, it has to pay a wad of cash to DoCoMo.
“I guess DoCoMo is hoping for that but it does mean that should DoCoMo take them over they can cancel the 3G roll out without penalty,” says an experienced observer here.
How things have changed for DoCoMo and AT&T. Only a year ago, the partners were talking of AT&T’s commitment to deploy W-CDMA. Officially the commercial launch is still supposed to be in December 2004 in San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and San Diego.
So as well as seeing most of its investment down the tube, what now for DoCoMo’s attempt to promote i-mode and 3G in the U.S. if AT&T is bought up by someone else…