Bharti Airtel eyes sale of Sri Lankan unit to Etisalat

Bharti Airtel may sell its Sri Lankan operations, Bharti Airtel Lanka, to Etisalat, India’s Economic Times reports.

According to sources, the company is in advanced discussions with the UAE operator, and Standard Chartered Banks is advising Airtel on the transaction.

Bharti Airtel Lanka has allegedly been valued in the region of $110-130 million and has a subscriber base of 1.7 million.

Etisalat’s existing subscriber base stands at 4.5 million and a successful acquisition would see the company move from third to second largest operator in Sri Lanka.

“In a country like Sri Lanka, an operator has to be either the largest or second largest to make money,” one source told local reporters.

Airtel’s growth prospects in the country are limited by its small number of subscribers, and despite investing over $300 million in the company since 2007, the Sri Lankan unit has continued to report losses.

“The Sri Lankan operation has been a cash guzzler for Bharti,” a second source said.

Bharti Airtel launched its terrestrial fibre-optic cable spanning India and Bangladesh at the end of July this year.