Etisalat pulls the plug on Indian network

The UAE-based telecom giant Etisalat has confirmed that it will bring a close to its involvement in India, shutting down its operations in the country on March 31st. The Indian Supreme Court’s decision to annul 122 2G spectrum licences across the country prompted the operator to announce that it would cease operating its Etisalat DB network.

In 2008, Etisalat paid US$900 million for a 45% stake in Etisalat DB (previously Swan Telecom), entering into a joint venture with Majestic Infracon, which holds a similar percentage of the assets. Etisalat DB – branded as Cheers Mobile - had 15 of the 122 void licences, which were annulled due to concerns over the legitimacy of the original issue process.

The 2G licences were awarded in 2008. The Indian Supreme Court ruled that the licences were issued without fair process, and the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a consultation paper outlining plans for a fair auction of 2G spectrum.

"The decision of the Supreme Court… has removed [Etisalat’s] ability to operate [in India]. Etisalat DB will be taking steps to reduce operating costs, including the suspension of its network and services,” said Etisalat in a statement. The Cheers Mobile website was updated to read: “customers are encouraged to ‘port out’ their Cheers number to a network of their choice as soon as possible.”

Etisalat is not the only Middle Eastern player to withdraw from India following the ruling. The Bahraini operator Batelco has stated that it aims to sell its Indian assets – a 42.7% stake in operator STel – to Sky City Foundation for US$174.5 million.

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