Aircel May Shut Down Services, Sell Assets to Larger Telco: Report

According to the ET report, Aircel may sell its 40,000 towers to another company.

The report, citing various analysts, said that Bharti Airtel could be the most likely buyer of Aircel’s wireless assets and subscribers. Such as move will allow Airtel to quickly add subscribers in Aircel’s stronger markets like Tamil Nadu, which will allow it counter Vodafone-Idea Cellular combine and Reliance Jio.

Some analysts, however, think that the Vodafone-Idea combine could also be a potential buyer.

Notably, Aircel can’t sell its 2G or 3G airwaves due to a court diktat. However, if the Supreme Court clears any move by Aircel to sell its airwaves, the telco would be able to structure the deal in a different manner.

The report added that Aircel’s move to shut down operations through the bankruptcy route would invoke the bank guarantees of Malaysian parent Maxis, which could lead to a long drawn legal tussle. It further added that the telco is looking at restructuring its debt while shrinking its operations to focus on a few of its stronger circles including Tamil Nadu, the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir.

Aircel currently has around 89 million subscribers that could be a part of its wireless asset deal with a larger telco in India.

The apex court had earlier threatened cancellation of Aircel’s licences and barred it from selling its 2G or 3G airwaves until representatives of its Malaysia-based parent company appear before it. The court’s diktat was the key reason for the cancellation of the telco’s merger with RCom.

Interestingly, Maxis’ promoter T Ananda Krishnan and former executive Ralph Marshall still haven’t appeared in court.

Simultaneously, Aircel is trying to restructure its debt while shrinking its operations to focus on a few of its stronger circles including Tamil Nadu, the Northeast and Jammu & Kashmir.

“There is no point in staying if you are losing more money and relevance in the market. Its only option is to sell its customers and revenue to one of the incumbents and offset its debt,” said Sanjay Kapoor, former chief executive of Bharti AirtelBSE -3.45 % for India.

Another Mumbai-based analyst at a foreign brokerage said, “For players like Aircel, it may be best to head the Tata TeleservicesBSE -4.97 % way and look for buyers like Airtel or Jio.” Debt-laden Tata Teleservices has agreed to sell its consumer wireless business to Bharti Airtel for free.

Most analysts believe Bharti Airtel appears the most likely buyer as it needs to add subscribers, such as those from Aircel’s stronger markets like Tamil Nadu, to close in or go past a Vodafone-Idea Cellular combine, which would become No. 1 by revenue market share, and a rapidly expanding Reliance Jio Infocomm. The Vodafone-Idea combine could be potential buyers but the two are busy merging operations while Jio is growing its own base organically and has close business ties with RCom.

“Airtel has demonstrated the biggest appetite to consolidate market share by acquiring marginal players. However, given their moves, their appetite for more at a higher value may not exist. Given that Idea-Vodafone combined have to play a catch-up game on 4G, versus Jio and Airtel, their ability to accord greater value to Aircel cannot be ruled out,” Kapoor said. Airtel didn’t respond to queries.

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