Maybe this time around, SBC Communications will have more luck with its international ambitions.
On Monday, SBC agreed to acquire AT&T, a leading provider of voice and data services to enterprises around the globe. That deal comes just months after the San Antonio, Texas, telephone company began pulling the plug on its less-than-successful investments in network operators in Europe and South Africa.
Over the next year, while SBC seeks regulatory approval for its planned acquisition, enterprise customers will have time to chew over whether a regional telephone company -- albeit a big one -- has the vision and determination to carry on AT&T's role as a global player.
Some are doubtful.
"SBC went abroad but returned home," said Ewan Sutherland, chairman of the International Telecommunications Users Group (INTUG). "Enterprise customers have to ask themselves how serious SBC is about international operations, given its track record in Europe and South Africa. The company will certainly need to do some convincing."
In the late 1990s, when numerous U.S. companies were investing heavily in newly liberalized European telecom markets, SBC joined the fray. It made investments in several European network operators, including Denmark's TDC and Belgium's Belgacom, as well as Telkom in South Africa.
Last year, SBC sold its stake in Belgacom and sharply reduced its holdings in TDC and Telkom.
"It's really easy to talk global but it's a whole other story to deliver on a global strategy," said Sutherland. "SBC's retrenchment in Europe is proof of that."
Few will disagree that SBC has failed to gain international recognition -- including SBC itself. With the nationally and internationally well-known AT&T brand name tucked under its arm, the former "Baby Bell" hopes to cast off its parochial image.
That, however, could be easier said than done.
For one, AT&T isn't what it used to be. Its core long-distance business has been ravaged by price wars and new technologies, such as wireless and Internet phones. Its failed wireless and broadband cable expansion plans in the U.S. diverted money and attention away from the international operations.
For another, AT&T's roster of more than 3 million enterprise customers may be the envy of the industry -- the operator counts nearly all companies in the Fortune 1000 as customers -- but its service outside the U.S. has slipped.
One indicator: Cisco Gold accreditation. Cisco Systems certifies operators that meet specific criteria, such as maintaining a certain number of engineers and sales people on the ground in each market.
"This accreditation speaks to an operator's ability to credibly deliver and support convergent services," said Camille Mendler, an analyst at the European office of The Yankee Group. "It's only a guide but it's a very important one for enterprise customers."
AT&T has Cisco Gold accreditation only in the U.S., compared to BT Group, which is certified in numerous European countries in addition to the U.S., according to Mendler.
Mendler warned that while AT&T may enjoy a "high perception" among enterprise customers today, tomorrow could be another story.