Vodafone in talks to fuse India unit with Idea Cellular

AFP, MUMBAI, India

Wed, Feb 01, 2017 - Page 5

British mobile phone giant Vodafone Group PLC on Monday said that it was in talks to merge its Indian unit with Idea Cellular Ltd in a move that would create India’s largest telecom.

The confirmation ended months of speculation that the two operators were exploring a deal to help fend off Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, whose recent arrival shook up India’s ultracompetitive mobile network market.

It also sent Idea shares soaring by a whopping 26 percent on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

“Vodafone confirms that it is in discussions with the Aditya Birla Group about an all share merger of Vodafone India [excluding Vodafone’s 42 percent stake in Indus Towers] and Idea,” Vodafone said in a statement. “Any merger would be effected through the issue of new shares in Idea to Vodafone and would result in Vodafone de-consolidating Vodafone India.”

“There is no certainty that any transaction will be agreed, nor as to the terms or timing of any transaction,” the statement added.

A merger between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular would turn India’s multibillion-dollar telecommunications market on its head, global brokerage firm CLSA Ltd said.

The group of analysts has estimated that the pair would command a combined revenue market share of 43 percent, ahead of rival Bharti Airtel Ltd, which would hold 33 percent.

Reliance Jio, which last year began operations to great fanfare and is owned by India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, would have 13 percent, CLSA’s research showed.

The 4G Jio network launched in September last year with an audacious free service for the rest of the year, followed by vastly cheaper data plans and free voice calls for life.

It forced rivals to dramatically slash their tariffs and left them scrambling to match the deep pockets of Jio, which is backed by hugely wealthy energy-to-chemicals Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd.