Wrong number! India's Jio denies bidding for the UK's BT
India's Reliance Industries is exploring a bid for the UK's BT, according to media reports. If a deal went ahead, it would be one of the largest ever international takeovers by an Indian company. Reliance Industries, however, has denied any bid.
Reports have suggested Reliance is about to make an unsolicited offer to acquire BT Group, valued at $20.6 billion, or a controlling stake in the UK telecom incumbent. Another possibility, according to reports, is that Reliance could try to partner with Openreach, BT's network arm, to fund its fiber-optic expansion plans. The speculation comes weeks after BT said it was no longer seeking an investment partner to cover the last 5 million properties in a rollout set to cover 25 million in total.
BT is the UK's foremost fixed-line operator with a global presence in around 180 countries. Its brands include BT Sport, Openreach and Plusnet, besides BT.
Reliance Industries already operates in the telecom sector through Jio, an Indian mobile operator that now serves around 400 million subscribers, making it the country's biggest player. A few months ago, Reliance Industries was linked with a bid for T-Mobile's Dutch unit – possibly the first time Reliance's global aspirations became public knowledge.
Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries and Asia's richest man, has recently acquired a property in London for $57 million. The Ambani family subsequently denied reports that it might move to the UK.
The Altice angle
The rumors about Reliance follow speculation that Patrick Drahi-led Altice, which owns a 12.1% stake in BT, is seeking to increase its stake in the company. Drahi has in the past voiced his support for Openreach's plan to connect 25 million homes by 2026. Reuters had earlier reported that Drahi might try to increase his stake in BT as Altice exits Portugal.
Following his acquisition of a 12.1% stake in BT, Drahi would be eligible to increase his ownership after lock-up period that ends on December 11. One possibility is some kind of deal that involves Deutsche Telekom, another prominent BT shareholder with a 12.06% stake.
This is not the first time that Indian telcos have explored global markets. Bharti Airtel, India's second-largest service provider, acquired Zain's Africa business in 2010. In addition, Bharti Group, along with the UK government, has acquired a stake in OneWeb, a broadband satellite company.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading