ANALYSIS: Does Europe need AT&T?

22 October 2013 | Kavit Majithia

AT&T's experience in creating 4G networks could be the welcome boost European telecoms needs to compete with other markets, according to leading analysts.

A high-profile investment by the company has been touted in the continent and a move by AT&T could be imminent, given an increasing amount of investment in the US market.

US operator AT&T has been particularly vocal regarding its interest in making an acquisition in Europe in recent weeks, with rumours that it will launch a bid for UK-based Vodafone gaining increasing traction.

Vodafone's overall portfolio has been significantly affected by the sale of its stake in Verizon Wireless, and there are suggestions in the market that AT&T could pick the company up for approximately $80 billion.

While AT&T has not directly confirmed its interest in Vodafone, a range of industry analysts have suggested the company could be a natural fit for the US giant.

"Vodafone has certainly been mentioned [as a target], but I would expect them to look at the balance between the company's mature and emerging operations," said Rich Karpinski, senior analyst at Yankee Group.

CEO Randall Stephenson has said he sees "great opportunity" to invest in mobile broadband in Europe, and believes the continent has the potential to be "amazingly exciting".

It also appears the company has been buoyed by the fragile state European telecoms is in at the moment, not deterred, with fragmented pricing, extreme regulation and the lack of an established regional network the major talking points.

Stephenson said this month he continued "to be fascinated by how slow mobile broadband is moving in Europe". He has argued for changes in spectrum policy and reiterated calls for further network investment, but he may not make his move until the changes are in place.

Karpinski believes the problems Europe is facing will only increase AT&T's interest in entering the market.

"Economic conditions in certain regions would likely be a limiting factor, but also could present opportunities to buy an operator at a bargain, bail-out price," Karpinski said.

"There are always risks in moving into other geographies. But multinational operators are probably more the norm than the exception, so it seems a natural step for AT&T," he added.

As telecoms Commissioner Neelie Kroes is battling for reform in the European telecoms market to generate growth, is AT&T's pending European adventure just what the continent needs?