Oct 17, 2008

Business - India;Bharti eyes MTN like bid to become global player

Bharti Airtel, India’s leading private telecom service provider, is keen to acquire a player similar in size to South African giant MTN in the emerging markets to become a global brand, said Akhil Gupta, deputy group CEO and managing director of Bharti Enterprises.

“We are looking for a company with deeper roots in rural areas, which in turn will ensure future growth. Our business model of low cost and low tariff will work in that kind of market. As our talks with MTN have failed, we are scouting for a company in the African continent,” said Gupta, on the sidelines of CFO conference in Mumbai.

About the rumour that MTN, which is valued at 440 billion, would once again be Bharti’s target, he said that they were not having any talks with the South African company. “The deal is off at least for now. Presently, we would like to replicate our low-cost model to other growing markets to become a global payer,” he said.

The Sunil Mittal-controlled company failed to strike a deal with the MTN group earlier this year after months of negotiations.

In the domestic market, the company has no plan to scout for acquisition. There is no player of reasonable size remaining in the country due to consolidation, he said at the conference.

Gupta said he expected Bharti Airtel to become cash-flow positive in the current financial year after it spun off its tower unit and other assets into a separate arm called Bharti Infratel.

“The global credit crunch is not expected to affect telecom players in India as the common man finds telephone as the substitute for travel in the wake of escalated costs. We have enough cash to carry out capital expenditure, so crisis on us will be minimum,” he added.

“In the tower business, our joint venture with Vodafone-Essar and Idea, named Indus, plans to build about 25,000 towers this year, while Bharti Infratel will construct about 6,000 towers,” he said.

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