AT&T moving back into wireless

AT&T Corp.'s government unit will likely reveal its strategy for offering branded wireless services to its federal customers later this year when the merger of the company's wireless unit with Cingular Wireless LLC is complete, an AT&T official told Washington Technology.

"We're just getting started, so it's too early to say what the strategy will be," said Bob Collet, chief technology officer of AT&T Government Solutions in Vienna, Va.

Earlier this week, AT&T signed a five-year deal to sell wireless service over Sprint Corp.'s network, which includes an option for AT&T to enter agreements with other wireless companies. AT&T did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. As part of the deal, AT&T said it would introduce handsets enabling clients to use Internet-based calling in homes and businesses.

The deal marks AT&T's return to the wireless market since it sold off its cellular unit in 2001. Under the terms of the sale, AT&T has been prohibited from offering wireless services and using its own cellular brand.

In February, Cingular, a joint venture between SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., announced it was buying AT&T Wireless, creating the nation's largest cellular company. When Cingular completes the transaction later this year, the AT&T Wireless brand name will revert back to AT&T.

AT&T, which has more than 30 million business and consumer customers, plans to offer wireless service to complete its communications offering, the company said in a press release issued Tuesday. Also, recent local number portability rules, which allow customers to keep their cellular numbers when they switch carriers, now makes it easier for communications companies lie AT&T to increase their market share, the company said.

AT&T's re-entry into wireless services comes as more rival carriers are selling bundled services, including wireless, local and long-distance calling and Internet connectivity, to meet growing customer demand.

Sprint also sells wireless services to Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver and Virgin Mobile USA LLC, a joint venture between Sprint and Britain's Virgin Group.

AT&T is No. 20 on Washington Technology's 2004 Top 100 list of government contractors, which ranks companies according to their federal prime contracting revenue. The Bedminster, N.J.-based parent company employs 72,000 workers and posted 2003 revenue of $34.5 billion.

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