Vodafone India is reportedly interested in acquiring Telenor’s India unit as it looks to expand its spectrum holding to compete with market leader Bharti Airtel and newcomer Reliance Jio.

The Economic Times said Vodafone, the country’s second largest operator with a 19 per cent market share, is the leading candidate to buy Telenor’s operation in India, which has 54 million mobile connections in six service areas.

Vodafone is considering a number of options, including a full acquisition as well as spectrum trading or sharing arrangements, the newspaper reported. Its main interest, sources told the Times, is Telenor’s 1.8GHz spectrum, which can be used for 4G service and is valued at an estimated $1 billion. The operator, with a 5 per cent market share, holds the airwaves in seven regions.

Vodafone, with 201 million connections, has 4G spectrum in just five service areas, while rivals Bharti Airtel and Jio have nationwide 4G holdings and Idea Cellular has 4G airwaves in 10 regions.

Airtel, which has a 24 per cent market share and offers 4G service in nearly 400 cities and towns in 15 regions, has worked out a number of spectrum deals over the past year to boost its 4G footprint.

Last month Jio finally opened its long-awaited LTE service to the public, but the operator stopped short of a full launch. The 4G operator, which delayed the launch of its services multiple times over the past six months, invited select employees at Reliance Industries (its parent company) late last year to use its new network.

Vodafone will also be able to acquire spectrum in the September spectrum auction, which has been touted as potentially the country’s largest ever. The sale will see airwaves up for grabs in the premium 700MHz band, as well as 800, 900, 1800, 2100, 2300 and 2500MHz frequencies.