Malaysia-based Axiata Group reportedly moved closer towards combining its Indonesian operation XL Axiata with local carrier Smartfren, owned by conglomerate Sinar Mas, in deal that could worth $3.5 billion.

Sources told Bloomberg a potential deal would involve a mix of cash and shares, leading to the creation of an entity with a combined 100 million customers.

A non-binding agreement might see the light of day in the coming months, the sources added, after which the companies are expected to continue negotiations.

XL Axiata’s spokesperson told Bloomberg it is “open to exploring possibilities”, adding consolidation would be good for the industry.

The news follows unsuccessful attempts to merge the two units over the years, with the first negotiation reported in October 2021. Last year, Bloomberg revealed Axiata and Sinar Mas had turned to legal and financial advisers to help realise the deal.

Bloomberg’s sources added other options under consideration include network-sharing agreements and partnerships. If the merger deal goes through, the combined entity will become Indonesia’s second-biggest mobile operator.

Telkomsel remains market leader with more than 156 million subscribers as of February 2024.

Indonesia’s telecoms market has seen consolidation in recent years. In 2022, Indosat Ooredoo, owned by Qatar’s Ooredoo Group, merged with CK Hutchison’s local operation 3 in a $6 billion deal.