Telenor ‘to sell Indian business to Airtel’, say reports

04 January 2017 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


Telenor is on the verge of selling its Indian mobile operation to Bharti Airtel, according to unconfirmed reports from the country.

Telenor - India - AirtelAirtel would take on Telenor India’s net debt and would pay the sums it has committed for new 4G spectrum, say the reports. Telenor earlier failed to sell the Indian business to Vodafone and Idea Cellular.

The Economic Times says that Telenor is in “advanced talks” with Bharti Airtel to dispose of the business. Capacity has asked Telenor to comment on the report, which says that the Norwegian company “wants a complete exit from India”. 

Telenor said: "As a principle, we don’t comment on rumours and speculations in the market."

Telenor owes nearly $280 million to the Indian government in spectrum fees and nearly $270 million in debt to financial institutions for the Indian business. Telenor did not take part in India’s October 2016 spectrum auctions, a move widely believed to have signalled its intention to leave the country, where it has 2G operations in six of India’s 22 mobile districts, or circles.

Airtel also has net debt of more than $12 billion, but would acquire Telenor’s customers for around $6 each if the transaction went through.

Telenor’s 4G bandwidth, not yet activated, is in seven circles: Uttar Pradesh (West), Uttar Pradesh (East), Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Gujarat. Those include some of the most important markets for Airtel.