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AT&T eyes international expansion for growth

Not content with its situation in the United States, the carrier is looking at potential assets to buy in Europe.

Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T mobility, speaking at the company's investor conference in New York City in November 2012. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

AT&T is interested in buying a European carrier for growth, according to the Wall Street Journal.

With the U.S. market about to get more competitive, AT&T is looking at markets in Europe where it can upgrade technology and roll out new services and pricing strategies, the Wall Street Journal said, citing unnamed sources. It reported that AT&T is studying potential acquisitions, and could strike a deal by the end of the year. In particular, AT&T is looking at the U.K., Germany, and the Netherlands.

While the U.S. carriers have largely remained insular, many of the largest carriers overseas, such as Vodafone and Telefonica, have assets in multiple countries. With growth starting to slow in the U.S., it's natural for AT&T to look abroad.

But a deal isn't without risks, and the markets that AT&T is looking at are already highly competitive in their own right. These aren't fast-growing emerging markets, but fairly mature ones with several competitors already in place. Those issues, as well as the weak European markets, have led to falling valuations and potentially attractive prices for many of these companies.

AT&T, of course, isn't a stranger to doing business with a major European player. The company two years ago attempted to acquire T-Mobile USA, a unit of Germany's Deutsche Telekom. That deal fell apart amid regulatory scrutiny, and the company has been focusing on smaller deals since then.

It's unclear how such a deal would interfere with or complement the company's extensive network upgrade plans. AT&T is spending an additional $14 billion to upgrade its wireless and wireline networks as it looks to new sources of growth in the U.S.

But AT&T is also looking at a market that will get more competitive in the coming months. Softbank is poised to come in and inject capital into Sprint, and its leadership has already warned that it would introduce new pricing schemes to shake up the market. Deutsche Telekom has recommitted itself to T-Mobile, which is planning to merge with MetroPCS and likewise promised to introduce new competitive plans.

AT&T does have an international presence in the form of a business arm that provides services to multinational corporations, but it doesn't yet serve consumers.

An AT&T representative declined to comment on the report.