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Airtel considering African sell-off to cut debt

Bharti Airtel is considering divesting or merging some of its African units as a means of cutting its $12 billion debt, according to the group’s chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.

Mittal stated that the firm may reduce its African footprint over the next year, but did not confirm how many of Airtel’s fifteen African units would be affected. Airtel may also attempt to reduce its debt by selling some or all of its stake in its tower unit Bharti Infratel.

Airtel’s African operations, which cover 15 countries including Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda, have made a loss over several successive quarters.

The firm has also been affected by increased competition in its home market of India, where it is the number one operator. Competition between India’s main players has become frenzied with the debut of rival Reliance Jio Infocomm, which has started a price war by offering free calls and data to its customers.

Major Indian players such as Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular could face revenue reductions of as much as 7% across the next two quarters as increased competition forces their prices ever further down.

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