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Is Airtel planning to sell its towers in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh?

Airtel flicr

Airtel has officially responded with a noncommittal answer to a BSE inquiry into its selling its Bangladesh and Sri Lanka assets. CNBC had first reported last week that Airtel was planning to sell its tower business Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where the company owns 2,500 and 4,000 towers respectively, to Etisalat and Orange. This was Airtel’s reply (pdf) to the BSE inquiry:

Dear Sir/Madam,

With reference to your above mentioned email, kindly note that Bharti Airtel Limited keeps evaluating various opportunities, on an ongoing basis in ordinary course of business and will make necessary disclosure as and when required.

Please take the above information on record.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

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For Bharti Airtel Limited

Rajendra Chopra, Company Secretary.

Airtel entered Sri Lanka back in 2009 with an investment of $200 million and Bangladesh in 2010 by buying 70% stake in Warid Telecom, and eventually the rest 30%. Recently, the company had appointed Jinesh Hegde as CEO if its Sri Lanka operations, replacing former CEO Suren Goonewardene. Airtel offers mobile voice, data and enterprise solutions these countries and claims a 3G presence of 70% within its network in Sri Lanka, and a user base of 8.35 million in Bangladesh.

Sale of towers:

In July, Airtel raised $1.3 billion from the sale of mobile towers in five countries in Africa to Helios Towers, IHS Holding Limited and American Tower Company. The company added that the proceeds would go towards reducing the $10 billion debt used in its African operations in 2010. Interestingly, the same month, Airtel entered into exclusive talks with Orange to sell its businesses in four African countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville and Sierra Leone. Earlier in June, Airtel said that the agreements for sale of tower assets in Tanzania and Chad between the respective subsidiaries of Bharti Airtel Limited and Helios Towers Africa had lapsed and were terminated.

In December 2014, Airtel sold 1,100 towers in Zambia and Rwanda to IHS Holding Limited. The agreements were conducted through Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) BV, as per which Airtel would sell and lease back over 1,100 towers from IHS in Zambia and Rwanda under a 10-year renewable contract. In November 2014, Airtel sold 4,800 towers in Nigeria to the American Tower Corporation for $1.05 billion. In September 2014, Airtel sold 3,500 towers to Eaton Towers in six African nations, and in July it sold 3,100 towers in four countries to Helios Towers Africa. The Helios Towers deal was valued at $2 billion.

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Other developments:

– Last month, Airtel acquired Augere Wireless Broadband, which holds 20 Mhz of BWA spectrum in the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh telecom circles. The same month, Airtel launched commercial operations for its 4G services in 296 cities in India and offered data packs for customers starting at Rs 25.

– In July, Airtel India became the number one operator whose call drop complaints (31) flooded the TRAI this year (up to 30 June), followed by Vodafone (17) , Idea Cellular (10) and BSNL (10). According to the data released by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), Airtel added the highest number of GSM connections in June 2015, taking its connection base to 230.66 million. Subsequently in August, the company entered into preliminary talks with BSNL for sharing spectrum, to help reduce call drops.

– The same month, Airtel India, along with Vodafone and Reliance started implementing mobile number portability (MNP) as of this month. The telecom operator would allow customers to retain their number when moving between states except customers shifting to J&K, Assam and the North East.

– In June, we reported that India’s largest telecom operator Bharti Airtel was now the third largest telecom operator in the world with 303.1 million subscribers, according to data published by World Cellular Information Service(WCIS). As per Bharti Airtel’s Q4-FY15 quarterly report (pdf), it has 310.88 million total customer base.

– In May, Anand Chandrasekaran, the product chief at Bharti Airtel, stepped down from his post at the telecom operator. Chandrasekaran confirmed this move and said that he planned to do something entrepreneurial in India. However, later in June, he joined Snapdeal as its chief product officer.

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