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Bharti Infratel, Indus Towers to Merge, Create World's 2nd Largest Tower Firm

Indus Towers currently operates in 15 telecom service areas or circles while Bharti Infratel's operations are focused on the remaining 7 circles.


Updated:April 25, 2018, 6:00 PM IST
Bharti Infratel, Indus Towers to Merge, Create World's 2nd Largest Tower Firm
(photo for representation)

New Delhi: Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers on Wednesday agreed to merge in a deal that will create a USD 14.6 billion firm with world's second-largest number of mobile masts.

The merged entity will have in its fold more than 163,000 towers across India - largest after China Tower. Bharti Airtel and Vodafone will jointly control the combined firm, the two companies said. The transaction is subject to regulatory and other approvals, including from Competition Commission of India (CCI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), Department of Telecom (FDI approval), and is expected to close before the end of the fiscal year.

"Indus Towers will be merged with and into Bharti Infratel through a scheme of arrangement," Bharti said in a statement. The merged entity, which will be called Indus Towers Ltd, will remain listed. Bharti Airtel, which currently owns 53.5 percent in Bharti Infratel, will get 33.8 percent to 37.2 percent stake in the combined entity.

Its shareholding is dependent upon what Aditya Birla Group's Idea and Providence do with their minority shareholding in Indus Tower. Vodafone India will get between 26.7 percent and 29.4 percent of the Indus-Bharti Infratel combine. Vodafone has 42 percent stake in Indus Tower. Bharti Infratel too has an equivalent stake while the remaining is with Aditya Birla's Idea (11.15 percent) and Providence (4.85 percent).

"The combined company will fully own the respective businesses of Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers," the statement said. The merger will help unlock value for the companies which are locked in a tariff war unleashed by newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. that has hurt earnings and triggered consolidation in the sector. Vodafone and Idea Cellular are already in the final stages to merge their mobile operations.

Bharti Airtel separately said it plans to engage with potential investors to evaluate a stake sale in the combined tower company, which will have an equity value of Rs 96,500 crore (USD 14.5 billion). Under the deal announced today, Idea has the option to sell its 11.15 percent stake in Indus for cash at the merger ratio that values the stake at Rs 6,500 crore (USD 1 billion). Under the deal, Bharti Infratel agreed to pay 1,565 of its own shares for each Indus Tower share.

Vodafone India will receive 783.1 million shares in the combined company, valuing the UK-based firm's stake at Rs 28,400 crore (USD 4.3 billion). If Idea decides to sell all of its stake and Providence sells 3.35 percent of its 4.85 percent shareholding, the new entity will be 37.2 percent owned by Bharti Airtel and 29.4 percent by Vodafone Group, while 1.1 percent will be with Providence and the rest by public shareholders.

In case Idea and Providence decide to continue to stay invested, Bharti Airtel would have a shareholding of 33.8 percent in the combined entity. Vodafone in such a scenario would have 26.7 percent while Idea Group would get 7.1 percent and Providence would have 3.1 percent holding. The remaining 29.3 percent would be with public. "Bharti Airtel and Vodafone will have equal rights in the combined company," the statement said. "Following completion, the Board of the combined company will comprise of 11 directors, of whom three will be appointed by each of Bharti Airtel and Vodafone, one will be appointed by KKR/Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and four (including the Chairman) will be independent," it added.

None of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone or Idea Group (if it elects to receive shares), will be subject to a lock-in on their shareholdings in the combined company. "It is intended that any cash consideration paid to Idea Group and/or Providence will be financed through new debt facilities and the existing cash resources of Bharti Infratel. On the basis that Idea Group and Providence elect to receive the maximum possible cash consideration, the pro forma net debt of the combined company would have been Rs 5,600 crore (USD 0.8 billion) as at March 31, 2018," it said.

Indus Towers currently operates in 15 telecom service areas or circles while Bharti Infratel's operations are focused on the remaining 7 circles. "The combination of Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers, with their highly complementary footprints, will create a pan-India tower company with the ability to offer high-quality passive infrastructure services to all operators on a non-discriminatory basis, needed to support the pan-India expansion of wireless broadband services using 4G/4G+/5G technologies," the statement said.

Taken together, Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers had over 163,000 towers and 367,000 tenancies as at March 31, 2018, the statement added. With over Rs 25,360 crore in revenues in 2017-18, the combined company will be well placed to invest on a national basis to satisfy the future demand from all telecom operators in India as they continue to densify their networks to support sustained data traffic growth and roll out new network technologies, it said. Operational synergies include benefits of scale for capex, simplification of the organisational structure and general and administrative cost efficiencies.

| Edited by: Tarun Bhardwaj
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