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Bharti Airtel in talks with Telenor to acquire India unit for $350M: report

Update: Airtel refused to comment on the speculations in a reply (pdf) to the BSE stating that “as a matter of policy, (the company) does not wish to comment on the present speculative news item and will make necessary disclosures at an appropriate time.”

India’s largest telecom operator Bharti Airtel is in talks with Swedish telecom operator Telenor to acquire the latter’s India business unit for $350 million, reports ET Now. Airtel could acquire half of Telenor India’s liabilities, while Telenor is expected to hold the remaining half. The deal is likely to be closed by end of January, added the report.

Bharti Airtel declined to comment on MediaNama’s written queries, while Telenor said that “as a general principle, we do not comment on rumors or speculations in the market”.

During Q3 2016, Telenor India’s subscriber base dropped to 44.772 million from 44.907 million subscribers in the preceding quarter, losing at least 185,000 subscribers. At that time, the company mentioned that it was evaluating options in India. It currently has operations in UP (West), UP (East), Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujarat circles. The telco had said that its long-term presence in India is subjected to its ability to secure additional spectrum, as indicated by this report in April.

Telenor did not participate in the 2016 spectrum auctions stating that the reserve prices did not give “an acceptable level of return.” In May the company criticized the telecom commission’s approval of base price for the crucial 700 MHz spectrum, and its decision to hike upfront payments to 50% from the earlier 10% proposed by the TRAI for both 700MHz and 800 MHz band.

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Bharti Airtel on the other hand has been focusing on 4G expansion. During 2016 auctions, Airtel acquired 173.8 MHz worth of spectrum. 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 last month except Jammu & Kashmir.

Other consolidations in the telecom sector

RCOM-MTS merger: In March, shareholders of Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL), which owns the MTS brand in India approved the merger of the company with RCOM. RCOM’s CEO Gurdeep Singh said during a call with analysts that MTS customers can soon migrate to RCOM 4G.

RCOM-Jio spectrum sharing deal
:  A Mint report in September said that RCOM and Reliance Jio had virtually merged their networks. Both companies had entered into a strategic partnership to share spectrum in 800 MHz band across 17 Circles in January.

Vodafone-YOU Broadband deal: In April, Vodafone India had acquired TRG Capital owned internet service provider YOU Broadband for around Rs 350-400 crore.

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