Asia Watch: Buy Me, I'm Hot!

Merger and acquisition activity is rife in the Asia/Pacific region in the first full week of 2010, with India at the heart of the speculation and action.

  • Are India's state-owned operators, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) , going to merge? According to The Hindu Business Line, the issue was discussed earlier this week.

    MTNL operates in the Metro "circles" of Delhi and Mumbai, while BSNL operates in the rest of India. (See A Guide to India's Telecom Market.)

  • Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) has increased its stake in Unitech Wireless, the startup Indian mobile operator that is marketing its services under the Uninor brand. Telenor has invested a further 14.9 billion Indian Rupees (US$327.2 million) in the operator, taking its stake to 60.11 percent. Telenor plans to invest further to take its stake to 67.25 percent. (See Telenor Ups Stake in Unitech, Telenor Trims Capex in India, and Unitech Turns to AlcaLu, Huawei.)

    Uninor launched its GSM services in eight circles in December 2009, and has the ambitious target of achieving an 8 percent market share by 2018. It currently has a near zero market share in a market of more than 500 million mobile connections. (See Uninor Launches in Orissa, Uninor Launches in India, and Telenor Takes Mobile Stake in India.)

  • Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) has been given the green light by the Bangladesh government for its planned $300 million investment in Warid Telecom International Ltd. , reports Reuters.

    If completed, the deal would give the Indian carrier a majority stake in Bangladesh's fourth-largest mobile operator. At the end of November 2009, Warid had 2.9 million customers, giving it a market share of 5.8 percent. The market leader is Grameenphone , with 22.8 million subscribers (45.1 percent market share).

  • In associated news, Bangladesh is planning to auction 3G licenses before the end of this year, reports AFP.

  • Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0013; Pink Sheets: HUWHY) is looking to take Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd. (NYSE: HTX) private, and has offered to buy out the other shareholders for HK$2.20 in cash per share, a move that would cost it about HK$4.2 billion (US$542 million). Hutchison Whampoa currently owns 60.4 percent of Hutchison Telecom. (See Hutchison Whampoa Moves on HTIL.)

    Hutchison Telecom had 9.9 million mobile customers in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, at the end of September 2009, the majority (7.3 million) of which are in Indonesia. It also operates in Thailand, but is looking to sell that operation, in the same way it divested its Israeli business in August 2009. The operator generated revenues of HK$6.4 billion (US$825 million), and recorded a net loss of HK$285 million (US$37 million), during the first half of 2009. (See Hutchison Offloads Partner.)

  • The Chinese government is urging the country's three major operators to speed up the rollout of their 3G networks, and to do more to promote the homegrown 3G standard, TD-SCDMA, according to official news agency Xinhua. (See China Pumps $15B Into 3G.)

  • Two China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) regional units are close to the initial testing phase of their mobile applications stores, according to Marbridge Consulting. Unicom is playing catchup, as other apps stores are already open and in the works. (See China 3G Update: App Stores & iPhones and Nokia Teams Up for Chinese Apps Push.)

    Other news from the region includes:

    — Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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