ATLANTA — Cingular Wireless and Britain's Vodafone Group both boosted their bids to $38 billion for AT&T Wireless Services Inc. on Monday, as the board of the third-largest U.S. mobile phone provider considered which company would ultimately buy it, according to people familiar with the talks.
Vodafone matched Cingular's offers at each stage of the process, a source said on condition of anonymity.
A deal with Cingular, whose latest offer is an 18% premium over AT&T Wireless' closing share price Friday, could slim the field of national wireless carriers to five from six, possibly easing the price wars battering the industry. However, Vodafone may have the edge because of regulatory issues, a source said, declining to elaborate.
There was no timetable on when AT&T Wireless, whose board gathered in New York, would decide on an offer.
AT&T Wireless, Cingular and Vodafone all declined to comment on the negotiations.
"We're pretty sure we'll find out soon what's going on one way or another," a source familiar with the discussions said on condition of anonymity. A second source also familiar with the talks called the situation "very competitive and very fluid."
Atlanta-based Cingular, the nation's No. 2 mobile phone provider, with 23.4 million customers, early Monday offered $14 a share for Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless, after offering $13 a share, or $35 billion, over the weekend, sources said.
Vodafone also bid $35 billion over the weekend before making its $38-billion offer Monday.
Other potential suitors were NTT DoCoMo of Japan, which already owns 16% of AT&T Wireless, and Nextel Communications Inc. of Reston, Va. But only Cingular and Vodafone submitted bids by AT&T Wireless' Friday deadline.
A Vodafone deal would require the British cellphone giant to sell its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, the biggest mobile phone company in the United States.
AT&T Wireless' share price has risen steadily in recent weeks on news that it was putting itself on the auction block. The carrier has more than 22 million subscribers, including a sizable base of corporate clients who tend to use more services and spend more money.
But the company has struggled in recent months.
Late last year, it was unable to add new subscribers because of a glitch in a new software system.
The company also has acknowledged that it has lost more customers than it has gained under federal rules that took effect in late November allowing cellphone users to change carriers without losing their phone numbers.
AT&T Wireless shares rose 15 cents to $11.82 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.