updated 2/17/2004 9:54:06 PM ET 2004-02-18T02:54:06

Vodafone Group PLC said Tuesday it has withdrawn from the bidding for AT&T Wireless Services Inc., clearing the way for Atlanta-based Cingular to acquire the third-largest U.S. mobile phone provider.

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In a statement, Vodafone said it concluded that it was "no longer in its shareholders' best interests to continue discussions."

Vodafone's announcement came after The Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site early Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter, that Cingular won the bidding war with Vodafone with an offer of $15 a share, or about $40.5 billion.

David Caouette, a spokesman for Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless, told The Associated Press early Tuesday the company had no comment.

Several messages left by the AP for Cingular spokespeople in Atlanta were not immediately returned early Tuesday.

In Tuesday's statement, the British company said it remained "committed to its existing position in the U.S. market with its successful partnership in Verizon Wireless."

Earlier this month, Vodafone said it was considering bidding for AT&T Wireless. The company on Monday matched Cingular Wireless' $38 billion bid for AT&T Wireless, a source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Vodafone had no comment on details of its bid.

Atlanta-based Cingular, the United States' No. 2 mobile phone provider with 23.4 million customers, early Monday offered $14 a share for Redmond, Washington-based AT&T Wireless, after offering US$13 a share, or $35 billion, over the weekend, two sources said.

A Vodafone deal would have required the British cell phone giant to sell its 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless, the biggest mobile phone company in the United States.

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