Bharti seen in talks with Kuwaiti telco Zain

Written by Corporate Bureau | New Delhi, Jul 2 | Updated: Jul 4 2008, 05:29am hrs
The countrys largest mobile operator, Bharti Airtel, is understood to be in talksto acquire the Kuwaiti telecom major, Zain, a $5.91-billion company. The development comes barely a month after its failure to acquire the South African telecom company, MTN.

The companys spokesperson strongly denied any such move. However, even in the case of MTN, initially the companys group managing director, Akhil Gupta, had strongly denied the news when initial reports had surfaced. About a week later, the company, in a late evening communiqu, acknowledged its negotiations with MTN.

Zain is currently present in seven Middle-Eastern countries and 15 Sub-Saharan African countries. It has a combined subscriber base of 45.7 million.

As reported earlier by FE, Bharti after burning its hands in the MTN deal had changed its plans of increasing the companys global footprint. In a changed stance, the company had reportedly decided to grow overseas through the MVNO route and target smaller companies for global acquisitions.

Zain, with a market capitalisation of $1.8 billion as on Wednesday, strategically fits Bhartis target of smaller acquisitions. If Bharti is successful in acquiring Zain, it would add another 45.7 million customers to its kitty, increasing its user base by almost 70% in one go. It would then have a combined subscriber base of over 111 million customers. It currently has a subscriber base of around 66 million. With rival Reliance Communications still in talks with MTN, Bharti has to go for global acquisition if it wants to stay ahead in the numbers game.

According to industry sources, Bharti had identified a group of target companies in which Zain was the second name after MTN. Industry sources said that Bharti is moving very guardedly this time after the MTN debacle.

Bharti, which had reached advanced stages of negotiations with MTN, suffered a setback when at the last moment the South African company did a volte-face and said that the Indian telco would become its subsidiary.