NEW YORK - Alltel Corp., the sixth-largest U.S. wireless company, may pay $4 billion for Western Wireless Corp., which sells mobile calling in 19 Western states, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.
The combined company would have revenue of about $10 billion and 9.8 million U.S. subscribers, or almost 6 percent of the national market.
Western Wireless, which hasn't had an annual profit since 2000, sells service under the Cellular One brand.
A transaction would let Alltel sell service in states such as California and Minnesota, where it doesn't operate now, and bolster subscriber rolls in Texas and other areas.
That may help Alltel stay competitive as bigger companies such as Cingular Wireless LLC and Sprint Corp. make acquisitions to add subscribers and plug network-coverage holes.
Talks between Alltel and Western Wireless are at an advanced stage and an agreement may be reached next week, The New York Times reported yesterday.
Alltel spokesman Andy Moreau declined to comment. Karen Clark, an assistant to Western Wireless chief executive John W. Stanton, said the company would not respond.
A deal would quicken the pace of mergers in the $100 billion U.S. mobile-phone market after deals between Cingular and AT&T; Wireless, and Sprint's pending purchase of Nextel Corp.