India’s largest conglomerate Tata Group has explored selling its struggling telecom and related assets to the country’s most valued company Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) even as Bharti Airtel remains a strong contender to acquire them.
Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata
While talks with RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani’s disruptive telecom venture Reliance Jio may not progress, it assumes significance for being the first such deal talk between the country’s two corporate Goliaths emerging from the cold war of the past.
The two groups haven’t had much business ties in the past and even restricted recruiting employees from each other. The last decade’s telecom battles saw Tatas and Ambanis pitched on opposite sides.
Talking on Phone
This started changing with Tata Trusts and Reliance Foundation collaborating in areas such as high-speed connectivity and cancer care. More recently, Tata bagged the Jamshedpur franchise of Indian Super League — a men’s professional football league co-managed by RIL.
“It’s credible to say both Jio and Tata Tele have explored options, but risky to believe it would make progress,” said a person familiar with the matter. The Indian telecom industry is gripped by consolidation moves — three deals have been announced in the first half of the current calendar — as the Jio onslaught has hit the bottom-lines of competitors hard.
New Tata chairman N Chandrasekaran is working on a time-bound plan to sort out the telecom mess, and has asked his deal-makers to explore all options. In June this year, TOI quoted UK research firm CCS Insight to first report that M&A experts were betting on Bharti Airtel acquiring Tata Tele.
Sunil Mittal-led Bharti would be interested in a bundled acquisition of Tata Tele and related assets, especially DTH unit Tata Sky and the world’s largest submarine network through Tata Communications.
Tata Group holds a majority stake in Tata Tele and 49% in the listed Tata Communications. It has 60% in Tata Sky with Murdoch and Temasek owning the balance.
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