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Debt ridden Aircel set to file for bankruptcy: Reports

Update: The Economic Times has reported that Aircel, along with its units-Aircel Cellular and Dishnet Wireless, has filed for bankruptcy in the National Companies Law Tribunal in Mumbai on Wednesday.

“Post detailed discussions with the financial lenders and shareholders, the company could not reach consensus with respect to restructuring of its debt and funding,” Aircel reportedly said in a statement.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has directed Aircel to issue additional unique porting codes to allow its subscribers the facility to switch service providers.

Earlier: Telecom company Aircel is reportedly set to file for bankruptcy at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and its board has been dissolved ahead of the move. This development has been reported by the Economic Times. The impending bankruptcy and the upcoming merger between Vodafone and Idea will mean that the mobile telecom business in the country could be left with only 3 major private players.

Aircel’s Malaysian parent company Maxis had earlier proposed a cash infusion to support the debt-laden company but has pulled the plug, the ET report says quoting an anonymous source.

In January, Aircel had tried to enter a strategic debt restructuring (SDR) process where lenders led by State Bank of India agreed to take shares in Aircel to replace their loans and recover their dues in an eventual sale of assets of the company.

“There is no cash to run the business and no visibility to free any more up,” an individual familiar to the matter told ET, adding that the company is likely to stop paying salaries by the end of the week.

Loss of subscribers and a failed merger

In January, Aircel had stopped services in six circles to focus on well-performing areas. Aircel will be the fourth telecom provider to shut shop since the launch of Reliance Jio’s services in September 2016. Jio has aggressively undercut competitors by offering low tariffs. The Economic Survey highlighted in its findings that the telecom sector is going through a period of stress owing to growing losses and rising debt, amid heightened competition due to Jio’s disruptive entry. Norway-based Telenor is transferring its assets to Bharti Airtel for almost no charge. Bharti Airtel is also taking over the wireless business of Tata Teleservices. The wireless assets of Reliance Communications are being acquired by Jio.

In July 2016, before the launch of Jio, 79% of Aircel’s subscribers were active on the network and the company had a quarterly operating profit of Rs 120 crore. By December 2017, Aircel’s active customers fell to 57% at nearly half the average revenue per person and a quarterly operating loss of Rs 120 crore.

In April 2017, the company had initiated talks for a merger with Reliance Communications. However, delays in approvals and a Supreme Court order preventing a sale of Aircel’s spectrum stopped the merger.

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