Cingular Wireless LLC (search) will cut close to 10 percent of its 68,000 jobs over the next 12 to 18 months as it combines operations with the recently acquired AT&T Wireless (search), the chief executive of the nation's largest cell phone company said Tuesday in an interview.

Many of the cuts will come from administrative ranks, while relatively few if any would come from customer service, CEO Stan Sigman told The Associated Press.

No cuts are expected until January to prevent disruptions during the key holiday-selling season. Company officials are still working on the exact numbers, and the cuts will be spread out over more than a year, he said.

"It's not going to be in the big groups of people. The big groups of people are in customer care," Sigman said. "This isn't about closing stores or distribution channels, nothing like that."

Sigman stressed that Cingular's goal would be to hire those employees back over time as the company expands its current subscriber base of 47.25 million.

"There will be people that will be affected by this, absolutely," Sigman said. "If you go to Redmond, Wash., where AT&T Wireless is based, there's anxiety there about how this is going to affect them and what is the impact on them. I've made a commitment that there will not be any forced layoffs until the first of the year."

Cingular, a joint venture of Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. (BLS) and San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc. (SBC), hopes to achieve billions of dollars in cost savings through the merger, which gave the company about 5 million more subscribers than former market leader Verizon Wireless.

After completing the $41 billion purchase of AT&T Wireless Services Inc. last month, Cingular asserted that no decisions about jobs cuts would be announced until the start of 2005.

But on Tuesday, asked if Cingular planned to cut more than 10 percent of its work force, Sigman said, "That's probably close."