Cingular Wireless has won the bidding war for AT&T Wireless.

Atlanta-based Cingular, a joint venture between BellSouth and SBC Communications, announced early this morning that it would acquire AT&T Wireless for $15 a share in cash, or some $41 billion.

The deal represents a substantial premium for AT&T stockholders of some $3 a share. The $15 price also represents nearly a tripling of the value of the stock fromjust 11 months ago.

Through September of last year, Cingular is the second largest wireless provider with 24 million subscribers, according to research firm Yankee Group. AT&T has 22 million. Verizon is the leader with 37.6 million.

Reuters, citing information from Deallogic, said the acquisition is the largest all-cash deal in history. Reuters also noted that Cingular’s offer was 37 percent higher than a proposal made in January.

Cingular Wireless said later than Chief Executive Stanley Sigman will run the combined venture.

SmartMoney reported that Cingular won the bidding by offering $1 billion more than Vodaphone.

The deal was announced even as media reports indicated that European-based Vodafone would win the bidding.

AT&T is the third largest wireless provider but was on the market due in part to increasing competition and loss of customers.

“We think that the price we paid is a fair price. Yes, AT&T Wireless has some issues,” said Ralph De La Vega, chief operating officer of Cingular, in an interview with Reuters, “but we think the company was sound before those problems and we view the problems as being temporary in nature.”

The boards of directors at AT&T Wireless and Cingular announced the deal shortly after 4 AM.

When the networks and companies are combined, Cingular will have more than 46 million customers. In a statement, Cingular said the network would offer coverage in 49 states and in 97 of the top 100 metropolitan networks.

There are 155,267,674 wireless customers in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. Wireless customers have doubled since 1999, and 92 percent of users now utilize digital networks.

AT&T Wireless (NYSE: AWE) closed at $11.82 on Friday, down from a 52-week high of $12.05 set earlier in the day.

BellSouth (NYSE: BLS) closed at $29.55 on Friday. Its 52-week high was $31 on Feb. 11.

SBC (NYSE: SBC) closed at $25.05.

Interestingly, all three stocks set 52-week lows on March 12 of last year — BellSouth at $19.79, AT&T Wireless at $5.17, and SBC at $18.85.