Indian mobile giant Bharti Airtel is mulling a bid for Millicom’s mobile business in neighbouring Sri Lanka, one of the three Asian mobile networks the Luxembourg-based firm put up for sale last month. According to a report in India’s Economic Times, which cites unnamed sources, Bharti is looking to combine the business – branded as ‘Tigo’ – with its own Sri Lankan network in a move that would create the island’s second-largest mobile operator with over 3 million subscribers. Millicom put its mobile networks in Cambodia, Laos and Sri Lanka up for sale in July, and has reportedly attracted a range of interested suitors, including Malaysia’s Axiata Group, Russia’s VimpelCom and UAE’s Etisalat.
Millicom’s Tigo is the country’s third-largest mobile operator and is valued at between US$150 million and US$200 million, the report says. According to Wireless Intelligence data, Tigo had 2.3 million connections by 2Q09, behind Dialog (6.1 million) and Mobitel (3 million). Bharti’s Sri Lankan business, which launched last year, was fourth on 800,000. The Economic Times reports that Bharti has already invested US$125 million in Sri Lanka against a commitment of US$250 million. However, it notes that Bharti may face competition to acquire Tigo from Axiata, which owns 85 percent of market-leader Dialog and is also reportedly keen to consolidate its position in the market.