At&T Inc., the company created by SBC Communications' just-completed purchase of its former corporate parent, plans to resurrect the...
NEW YORK — AT&T Inc., the company created by SBC Communications’ just-completed purchase of its former corporate parent, plans to resurrect the AT&T Wireless brand for cellphone service provided by its Cingular Wireless partnership with BellSouth.
But the plan, which is permitted under the joint venture agreement with BellSouth, could generate friction between the partners when it comes to decisions such as allocating Cingular’s financial resources for marketing.
No time frame or details have been set for the branding plan, and AT&T declined to say whether the AT&T Wireless brand might be marketed broadly or to a specific customer segment.
“We plan to sell our wireless service under AT&T Wireless at some point, but we don’t have any definitive plan [now],” said AT&T spokesman Selim Bingol, confirming comments made by Chief Executive Ed Whitacre to USA Today.
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Cingular, which has 52.3 million subscribers, and its other corporate parent, BellSouth, appeared to be caught off guard by the remarks, but downplayed the significance. They stressed that every new customer would generate revenue for the joint venture regardless of whether it is under the Cingular or AT&T brand.
Still, the return of AT&T Wireless also may spell new competition for customers, particularly those who reside in Western and Midwestern states where the former SBC is the dominant local phone company.
SBC — now AT&T — has been investing billions to upgrade its local network in those markets to deliver television and other services that use Internet technology. That would enable the company to keep and win customers with a bundle of services on a single bill.
Together, the former SBC and BellSouth have poured billions into advertising and building the Cingular name since they merged their cellular operations — consisting of 11 different local brands — in 2000.
The decision marks another confusing twist in the recent lineage of the AT&T and AT&T Wireless names.
The two brands went separate ways in 2001 when AT&T Corp. spun off AT&T Wireless Communications as an independent company. AT&T Wireless, based in Redmond, had come to AT&T after the latter acquired McCaw Cellular Communications in the mid-1990s and gave the unit the AT&T brand name.
But the branding arrangement between the wired and wireless companies called for the rights to the AT&T Wireless name to revert to AT&T Corp. if the cellphone company was ever acquired. That provision was triggered about a year ago, when AT&T Wireless agreed to be acquired by Atlanta-based Cingular.
With that, AT&T Corp. announced plans to return to the cellular business with its own brand of mobile-phone service — until the long-distance company agreed to be acquired earlier this year by its former subsidiary, SBC.
Coming full circle, SBC has now decided to rename itself and most of its products under the more familiar AT&T brand.