After acquiring Videocon, Telenor, Tikona and the consumer wireless business of Tata Teleservices in the last year, Bharti Airtel is now said to be eyeing the assets of Reliance Communications.
Indian press reports say the country's largest service provider is now planning to acquire some spectrum and equipment from beleaguered Reliance Communications, the sixth-largest service provider in India, which is to shut down some operations by the end of this month.
Reliance Communications Ltd. has seen its debts soar to as much as 450 billion Indian rupees (US$7 billion) and the company is exploring a sale its assets -- including towers, spectrum, fiber and network infrastructure -- to pay off some of its borrowings and improve its balance sheet position. (See India's RCom Eyes Asset Sales After Aircel Merger Collapses.)
Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL) could be especially interested in acquiring RCom's licenses in the coveted 850MHz frequency band, which would allow it to deploy 4G services more economically. However, it is likely to face competition for those licenses from arch-rival Reliance Jio, India's newest operator, which has also shown interest in the 850MHz band.
That said, neither operator seems likely to bid aggressively to acquire this spectrum given the recent spate of consolidation in India, which has reduced competition.
Airtel has become a go-to buyer for stressed telcos in the Indian market. It started by acquiring Telenor India in February in a deal that involved no cash payment but saw Airtel assume Telenor's liabilities related to licensing fees and lease obligations for mobile towers. The move was followed by takeovers of Tikona Digital Networks Pvt. Ltd. and the consumer wireless business of Tata Teleservices Ltd.
Those acquisitions have already helped to bolster Airtel's spectrum position. Reliance Jio is also not short of spectrum, which will make it even harder for RCom to sell its licenses at a high price.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading