Airtel today announced that it has entered into an agreement with Telenor South Asia Investments Pte Ltd to acquire Telenor India for an undisclosed amount. The proposed acquisition will transfer of all of Telenor India’s assets, licenses, and customer base of 44 million into Airtel including Telenor’s active operations in 7 circles— Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Assam. Both companies had entered into discussions last month, and that time an ET Now report pegged the size of the deal at $350 million.

Airtel is set to acquire close to 43.4 MHz of additional spectrum in the 1800 MHz band through the acquisition deal. Airtel will additionally take over all outstanding spectrum payments and other operational contracts, including tower lease contracts. Telenor India’s operations and services will continue to operate independently until the completion of the transaction. The acquisition is subject to regulatory approvals from the department of telecommunications and Competition Commission of India and is expected to close within the next 12 months.

Note that during Q4 2016, Telenor lost 689,000 subscribers and another 185,000 users in Q3 2016 post launch of Jio. At that time, the company mentioned that it was evaluating options in India. Telenor India also skipped 2016 spectrum auctions stating that the reserve prices did not give “an acceptable level of return.”

Airtel’s acquisitions

Bharti Airtel, on the other hand, has been focusing on 4G expansion to keep up with Jio. During 2016 auctions, Airtel acquired 173.8 MHz worth of spectrum. Recently it completed acquiring 20 MHz of 4G spectrum under the 2300 MHz band owned by Augere Wireless. It had earlier bought Aircel’s 20 MHz of spectrum under the 2300 MHz band in 8 circles. In May, Airtel acquired Videocon’s spectrum in the 1800 MHz band for Rs 4428 crore across 6 circles. Following these spectrum purchases, Airtel said that it completed rolling out 4G in all of its circles except Jammu & Kashmir.

Competition and consolidations in the telecom industry

The acquisition deal comes at a time when India’s telecom industry has turned hyper-competitive after the entry of Reliance Jio, which is a 4G-only operator in 22 circles. Smaller players are either looking to merge with rivals or phase out operations completely. Apart from this, the third largest operator Idea Cellular was reportedly in talks with Vodafone for a potential merger deal.

Financials

For the quarter ended December 31st, 2016, Airtel reported:
– Mobile Internet revenues which declined 14% to Rs 3087 crore from Rs 3583.1 crore the previous quarter, and 3% year on year.
– Mobile broadband (3G+4G) base which declined 9% (3.46 million) quarter on quarter, to 37.69 million from 41.33 million.
-Net Profit which narrowed down to Rs 327.5 crore during Q3FY17 from Rs 652.6 crore loss in the previous quarter. 

During Q4 2016, Telenor India’s revenue growth was flattish at 1.417 billion (Norwegian Krone NOK), compared to NOK 1.545 billion in the previous quarter.
– Overall revenue also decreased marginally by 1.3% from NOK 1.436 billion in the same quarter last year.
– The telco made a loss of NOK 45 million during the quarter, which narrowed down NOK 368 million in the same quarter last year.