Jio sets up tower and fibre units as RCom takes spectrum sale to Supreme Court

13 December 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Indian mobile operator Reliance Jio is to create two new companies for its fibre and tower businesses.

However the sale by rival company Reliance Communications (RCom) of spectrum, fibre and towers to Jio is still held up because India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has still not given its approval.

RCom, which also owns the international carrier Global Cloud Xchange (GCX), has taken the case to the Indian Supreme Court, saying that the DoT has failed to give its approval in the required time.

The hold-up puts a further delay in the plans by RCom and GCX to remodel the group, possibly with a new owner in 2019.

RCom executives did not respond to a request from Capacity for comment. The group is still understood to be aiming to resolve its future by the middle of January.

At the end of November the court gave RCom the go-ahead for the next stage of its sell-off. The deal, once completed, means RCom can pay its debts to Ericsson and to minority investors in its tower operation, Reliance Infratel, and can complete the sale of its spectrum to Jio.

In what appeared to be the end to a long hiatus came when the court told the DoT “to grant a no-objection” to the spectrum sale. The approval was due to follow within seven days of receiving corporate guarantees. RCom says it gave those guarantees on 3 December, meaning the DoT should have approved the sale this week. However that has still not happened.

The plan is for RCom to sell its switching nodes, fibre, towers and spectrum to Jio, and its real estate to Brookfield, a Canadian company. That would allow it to clear its debts to Ericsson and others and proceed with a sale of subsea operator GCX, plus data centres and its enterprise telecoms business, to one of two private-equity investors.

One of the bidders is I Squared Capital (ISQ), which owns Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications; the other is a consortium of private equity companies. Both bid $1.1 billion, according to Capacity’s sources.

Andrew Kwok, CEO of HGC Global Communications, has consistently refused all requests from Capacity for comment on ISQ.

The first stage of the process, now held up by the DoT, is RCom’s sale of spectrum, towers and fibre to Jio. Once that is complete, Jio said this week it has approved two schemes of arrangement, one to transfer “its fibre undertaking, on a going-concern basis, to a separate company”, and another “for transfer of its tower undertaking, on a going-concern basis, to a separate company”.