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Airtel-Telenor merger completed days after SC order on bank guarantees

Airtel has announced the completion of its acquisition of Telenor, as the deal now has all regulatory and statutory approvals. The announcement comes less than a week after the Supreme Court directed the Department of Telecommunications to approve the buyout without demanding bank guarantees.

Now, Airtel will take over Telenor India’s operation in seven circles—Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Assam. All of Telenor’s existing customers in India (estimated to be nearly 44 million) will also be handed over to Airtel, taking its customer count up to 330 million.

In a press release, Airtel claims that Telenor customers can continue using the same SIM card, number, and previous packs and benefits.

Airtel also gets Telenor’s spectrum, adding 5 MHz to 7.2 MHz from the 1800 band in each of the seven circles. An additional 43.4 MHz of spectrum, Airtel said, will enable it to expand network capacity across these markets and fortify its network leadership.

Apart from getting Telenor’s assets, Airtel will take over all outstanding spectrum payments and other operational contracts, including tower lease contracts as due on Telenor in this no-cash deal.

Trouble with approvals

The deal, which was announced in February 2017, has taken over a year to be approved. Its last clearance came just days ago. A big hurdle has been the DoT’s demand for bank guarantees of around Rs 1,700 crore as a condition to approving the merger. The required guarantee included Rs 1,499 crore as one-time spectrum charge for the radio waves that Airtel would get without auction and Rs 200 crore as spectrum payment which is due on part of Telenor.

Airtel had challenged the same in the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which ordered approval without guarantees. The issue was then taken to the Supreme Court on May 3, and in its decision on May 10, the apex court also dismissed DoT’s petition.

The merger already had approval from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), given on March 8. The Competition Commission of India (CCI), market regulator Sebi and stock exchanges BSE and NSE had also given their nods to the deal.

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