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AT&T may explore Vodafone takeover as soon as next year

AT&T Inc. executives are laying the groundwork internally for a potential takeover of Vodafone Group Plc next year, mapping out a strategy for a complex deal with Europe’s largest mobile carrier, people familiar with the situation said.

While the companies haven’t entered formal negotiations, the largest U.S. phone company is intensifying work on which Vodafone assets it would retain after a deal and who could buy others, the people said, declining to be identified discussing private deliberations. AT&T, which remains interested in U.K. carrier EE as an alternative target, is also formulating a strategy for Vodafone’s operations in Europe, where mobile broadband adoption has lagged the U.S., the people said.

A merger, which would create the world’s largest telecommunications operator by sales, wouldn’t be AT&T’s first attempt at combining the companies. AT&T approached Verizon Communications Inc. this year about a transaction in which AT&T would buy Vodafone’s European operations, with Verizon taking over their wireless joint-venture and America Movil SAB taking much of the rest, two of the people said. Verizon rejected that approach as too complex and likely to slow its own purchase of Vodafone’s 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless, they said.

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