UK telecoms giant Vodafone has merged its Indian business with Idea Cellular, India's third-largest network, to create the country's largest operator. The merger could signal the arrival of cheaper tariffs as fewer players will be left in the fray.
Sustained investment by the combined entity will accelerate the pan-India expansion of wireless broadband services using 4G/4G+/5G technologies, support the introduction of digital content and ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) services as well as expand financial inclusion through mobile money services for the benefit of Indian consumers, businesses and society as a whole.
Vodafone will own 45.1% of the combined company after transferring a stake of 4.9% to the Aditya Birla Group for circa INR39 billion (circa US$579 million) in cash concurrent with completion of the merger. The Aditya Birla Group will then own 26.0% and has the right to acquire more shares from Vodafone under an agreed mechanism with a view to equalising the shareholdings over time.
The transaction is expected to close during calendar year 2018, subject to customary approvals.
Vodafone Group Plc Chief Executive, Vittorio Colao said: “The combination of Vodafone India and Idea will create a new champion of Digital India founded with a long-term commitment and vision to bring world-class 4G networks to villages, towns and cities across India. The combined company will have the scale required to ensure sustainable consumer choice in a competitive market and to expand new technologies – such as mobile money services – that have the potential to transform daily life for every Indian. We look forward to working with the Aditya Birla Group to create value for all stakeholders.”
Aditya Birla Group Chairman, Kumar Mangalam Birla, said: “Throughout its history, the Aditya Birla Group has been synonymous with the task of nation building and driving inclusive growth in the country. This landmark combination will enable the Aditya Birla Group to create a high quality digital infrastructure that will transition the Indian population towards a digital lifestyle and make the Government’s Digital India vision a reality. For Idea shareholders and lenders who have supported us thus far, this transaction is highly accretive, and Idea and Vodafone will together create a very valuable company given our complementary strengths.”
The combined company will have almost 400 million customers, accounting for 35% of the market share, the firms said in a statement. The announcement ends months of speculation over an impending deal. Analysts say the merger was to fend off competition from a new operator - Reliance Jio.
Owned by the country's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, Jio has forced Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, together with current market leader Bharti Airtel, to cut prices. Shares in Idea rose almost 4% in Mumbai following the announcement of the deal.
India's leading mobile networks are embroiled in what analysts have described as "a vicious price war", started by the arrival of Jio. More than 10 telecom operators are battling it out to try and attract India's one billion mobile phone users. That has forced firms to keep tariffs low - significantly impacting their profitability.