Indian market leader Bharti Airtel is aiming to close a deal to acquire Telenor’s Indian operations by the end of February.
The Hindustan Times has reported that the companies are nearing the end of negotiations with a decision from Airtel due imminently. Discussions have been underway since the start of January following months of speculation that the Norwegian group was looking to pull out of India.
These rumours reached a fever pitch in October when Telenor declined to bid in the country’s largest ever spectrum auction, despite the operator claiming that it had abstained due to high reserve prices. Airtel’s major rivals Vodafone and Idea Cellular have both been implicated in a potential Telenor acquisition, but nothing transpired.
India’s Economic Times has suggested that Airtel could spend as much as $350 million on the acquisition, although Telenor owes the Indian government almost INR19 billion ($280 million) in deferred spectrum payments, as well as having additional debts of around INR18 billion.
Telenor’s operations are predominantly 2G, with the operator providing 4G in just 27 towns. Nonetheless, any additional 4G spectrum will be welcomed by Airtel, which is attempting to shore up its position against upstart 4G provider Reliance Jio Infocomm.