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Bharti Airtel mulling Telenor India acquisition

Indian market leader Bharti Airtel is considering an acquisition of Telenor’s Indian operations for $350 million.

The deal, which could close by the end of January 2017, would see Airtel assume half the liabilities of Telenor India. Respectively, the two operators have market shares of 26% and 5%.

Rumours have circulated since April 2016 that Telenor could pull out of India, and this speculation was galvanised when the Norwegian operator abstained from India’s vast spectrum auction in October last year, citing overly-high reserve prices. There were indications in July 2016 that Vodafone India was interested in acquiring the unit.

The majority of Telenor India’s 53 million customers are 2G subscribers. Providing services across six telecom circles, the operator lacks extensive 3G and 4G coverage, having only brought its 4G offering to 27 towns.

The unit has debts of almost INR19 billion ($280 million) to the Indian government as a result of deferred spectrum payments, with a further INR18 billion in unspecified debts.

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