Private-equity firm KKR and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board are reportedly looking to acquire a “significant stake” in Bharti Airtel’s tower unit, Bharti Infratel.
Airtel said in a stock exchange filing last week that its board approved a move to explore selling a stake in Infratel, which is 72 per cent owned by Airtel, the Economic Times reported.
Airtel, India’s largest operator with a 25 per cent market share, aims to raise funds to boost network investment to compete with 4G newcomer Reliance Jio, which launched its 4G service nationwide in early September with free voice and data offers until at least the end of the year.
Economic Times said Airtel may give up management control depending on the valuation and the premium offered by the investors. Infratel has a market capitalisation of INR658 billion ($9.8 billion).
Airtel said in the filing that there “is no certainty of a transaction until such time the board reviews and approves the proposal”.
Infratel also has a 42 per cent stake in Indus Towers, India’s largest telecoms tower company, which is a joint venture between the country’s three largest mobile operators – Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.
Including the tower joint venture, Infratel has 90,000 towers across the country, with each site used an average of 2.2 times, giving it an above average monthly rental, the Times reported.
Infratel reported a net profit of INR7.74 billion last quarter and revenue of INR32.9 billion.
The country’s fourth largest operator Reliance Communications two weeks ago agreed to a non-binding pact to sell a 51 per cent stake in its tower assets to Canada’s Brookfield Infrastructure Group for a consideration that includes an upfront cash payment of INR110 billion ($1.7 billion). RCom said it will use the funds “solely to reduce its debts”.
Many mobile operators around the world are selling off their tower assets to reduce debt at a time when their margins are being squeezed.