And the Winner Is...Cingular

Brinksmanship-and a lot of money-finally net Cingular the AT&T Wireless prize for a cool $40.7 billion.

The bidding war is over. Now Cingular can set about creating the nations largest cell phone network.

Over the long weekend, Cingular Wireless and Vodafone Group PLC were engaged in a bidding war for AT&T Wireless. Vodafone matched each of Cingulars offers until the bidding got too rich for the U.K. firm. The final price tag: $40.7 billion dollars. Thats about $2.7 billion dollars more than some analysts had predicted for the final price. It translates into about $15 per share in cash. Cingular will also assume about $6 billion in AT&T Wireless debt.

Cingular is a joint venture of SBC Communications and BellSouth, and its currently the countrys second largest wireless carrier. The new company, however, will have a total of 46 million subscribers, surpassing Verizon Wireless 37.5 million customers.

For wireless customers, the consolidation will doubtless mean higher prices. To date, the six major carriers have been involved in an internecine battle to gain market share, further sparked by the recent number transfer or so-called portability rules. On the other hand, customers may benefit if the new owners can improve what has been spotty service from AT&T Wireless.

Naturally, the sale will mean more layoffs in the deepening jobless recovery. It may also spark other deals in the industry as companies look to bolster their market positions through acquisitions.

Now that the shouting is over, the deal needs the final approval of AT&T Wireless shareholders and the usual regulatory suspects.