As a public-relations stunt, it would have been a tad heavy-handed. But there was Vodafone Group PLC chief executive Chris C. Gent, orchestrating the biggest merger in the history of the mobile phone industry--via cell phone from Australia. It started over New Year's weekend, when word got out that Bell Atlantic Corp. was offering $45 billion for AirTouch Communications Inc., the largest independent U.S. mobile company. Gent, watching cricket down under, didn't fuss with flights back to London. He simply pressed the call button and started talking. By Jan. 3, he had put together his own $55 billion stock and cash offer for AirTouch. If it goes through, as analysts now expect, Vodafone, Europe's leading mobile phone company, could become the first global giant of the wireless age. "Sizewise, nobody else would come anywhere near," says Jonathan Lewis, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson Inc. telecom analyst.
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