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Telenor seeks FIPB nod to increase Uninor stake to 100%; To invest Rs 780 crore

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Norwegian telecom operator Telenor has sought for an approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board of India (FIPB) to increase its stake in Uninor to 100% from the existing 74% stake.

The telco plans to invest Rs 780 crore to acquire the remaining 26% stake owned by its Indian partner Lakshdeep Investments & Finance Pvt. Ltd in the joint venture Telewings which provides telecom services in the country under the Uninor brand.

This was quite an expected move considering that Telenor Group’s Asia head Sigve Brekke had earlier stated plans of increasing its Uninor stake to 100%, now that India allows 100% FDI in telecom. The telco had raised its stake in Telewings to 74% in December last year, after receiving the FIPB approval to increase its stake and invest up to Rs 1,000 crore in the JV in June 2013.

Telenor had earlier partnered Lakshdeep Investments & Finance to create a new joint venture Telewings Communications in October 2012, after a bitter battle with previous Indian partner Unitech (A Telenor vs Unitech timeline here). The company had closed down operations in seven of thirteen operational telecom circles in 2012 and in Q1 2013, including the sudden shutdown of operations in the Mumbai circle.

After quite a roller coaster 2012, Telenor Group mentioned that Uninor had reached cash flow break even at the end of 2013, on track with the telco’s plans.  In the February 2014 auctions, Uninor acquired spectrum in a new circle of Assam and additional spectrum in four of its six existing circles in the 1800 MHz band – UP East, UP West, Bihar & Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.

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Earlier this year, it also stated plans of investing Rs 500 crores to expand its network & distribution infrastructure by 30% in six operational circles. It had stated plans of re-deploying 5,000 sites from closed down circles for geographical expansion in existing six circles in February this year and by the end of the previous quarter, Telenor had deployed 1,036 new base stations.

Foreign telcos who have bought out or buying out its Indian shareholders

– Vodafone India bought out Vodafone India’s minority stakeholders like Analjit Singh and Piramal Healthcare to acquire 100% stake in the company in April this year. It had paid Rs 8,900 crore for Piramal Healthcare’s 11% stake and Rs 1,241 crore for Analjit Singh’s 24.65% stake. This was after seeking FIPB approval to buy out its minority shareholders through its indirect subsidiary CGP India Investments Ltd in November last year and receiving approval in January this year.

– Singtel had sought government approval to buy out its minority shareholders in Singtel Global (India) Pvt Ltd in October last year and had received FIPB nod in January this year.

– Last month, Sistema had sought for a FIPB approval to increase its 73.71% stake in Sistema Shyam Teleservices Ltd (SSTL) which operates in India as MTS India. The company eventually plans to buy out its Indian partner Shyam Telecom’s stake in SSTL, thereby increasing its stake in the company to 100%.

– Earlier this month, AT&T had also sought FIPB approval to acquire Mahindra’s 26% stake in its Indian arm AT&T Global Networks Services India, according to a The Hindu Business Line report.

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Meanwhile, NTT DOCOMO is selling its entire 26.5% stake in Tata Teleservices through the equity method by the end of this month. The company has an an option to sell its stake for Rs 7,250 crore (about 50% of the acquisition price) or a fair market price, whichever is higher. There has also been rumors of Tata Group looking to exit the telecom industry altogether with Vodafone being the prospective buyer.

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