Alltel's proposed $24.7 billion acquisition by private-equity firms may lead to the sale of other mobile-phone companies that serve rural...

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Alltel’s proposed $24.7 billion acquisition by private-equity firms may lead to the sale of other mobile-phone companies that serve rural areas, analysts said Monday.

Dobson Communications, Centennial Communications, Rural Cellular and United States Cellular are among the candidates for a buyout, said Christopher Larsen, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York.

An acquisition of Sprint Nextel, the third-largest U.S. wireless company, is less likely, he said.

Goldman Sachs and TPG announced an agreement Sunday to acquire Alltel in the largest leveraged buyout of a telecommunications company. Alltel, with 12 million customers, had been evaluating a sale since February.

The takeover may provide a model for other buyouts by spotlighting the amount of cash that mobile-phone companies can generate.

Alltel “was unique in some regard in that they put themselves up for sale,” said Larsen, who rates Alltel shares “neutral.” “That doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t come along and put themselves up for sale.”

Alltel purchased Bellevue-based Western Wireless in 2005 for $4.4 billion in cash and stock.

Western Wireless, which also focused on serving rural markets, was started by John Stanton, who also built VoiceStream Wireless — now T-Mobile USA — before selling it to Deutsche Telekom for $30 billion.

After Western’s merger with Alltel, Stanton resigned as chief executive and continued on as an Alltel director. Stanton stands to make about $160 million from the Alltel buyout, based on the 2.2 million shares he owned as of April 11.

Today, Stanton is the managing director of Trilogy Equity Partners, the Bellevue-based private investment company he started after leaving Western.

Shares of mobile-phone companies jumped Monday on news of the Alltel deal. Shares of Sprint, Dobson and Rural rose more than 3 percent at the close. Sprint Nextel shares were up 2.9 percent.

A leveraged buyout also could be possible in the telecommunications-equipment industry, Merrill Lynch analyst Tal Liani said Monday in a research note. He sees networking company Avaya as a potential target.

An offer for Sprint, based on Alltel’s price and the premium, would need to be more than $90 billion, Larsen said. “It redefines large” and could be too big for private-equity firms, he said.

Sprint, based in Reston, Va., has lost monthly subscribers for three straight quarters. Chief Executive Gary Forsee has invested in the company’s wireless networks and has vowed to add customers in the current quarter.

“Sprint may be a target if they’re not successful in turning around their operations,” said Christopher Watts, an analyst at Atlantic Equities in London.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Jonathan Atkin sees a buyout candidate in Dobson, an Oklahoma City-based company with 955,300 subscribers in 17 states.

The Alltel acquisition could help drive up the share prices of Sprint and Dobson, J.P. Morgan Chase analyst Jonathan Chaplin said.

Dobson spokesman Warren Henry and Sprint spokeswoman Sara Krueger declined to comment on whether the companies were interested in buyouts.

Steve Kunszabo, a spokesman for Wall, N.J.-based Centennial, also had no comment. Suzanne Allen, treasurer for Alexandria, Minn.-based Rural Cellular, didn’t return a phone message.

Telephone and Data Systems owns 81 percent of Chicago-based U.S. Cellular, which has 5.8 million subscribers in 26 states.

While that company, controlled by the family of LeRoy Carlson, is often the subject of buyout speculation, “we’re doing quite well all by ourselves,” said Mark Steinkrauss, vice president for corporate relations.

The company’s board would evaluate any offers, Steinkrauss said. He declined to say whether Telephone and Data is considering a buyout.

Information about Western Wireless provided by Seattle Times business reporter Tricia Duryee.