MTN may be in talks to buy a stake in giant Indian telecommunications operator Tata Teleservices and its associated business Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra).
The Hindustan Times quotes unnamed sources with knowledge of the discussions as confirming talks are underway.
“It is too early to comment on the level of discussions, since only preliminary talks have been held,” the newspaper quotes a source as saying. The report says two rounds of preliminary discussions have already been held between the parties.
The discussions may centre on plans by Japan’s NTT Docomo to dispose of its 26,5% stake in Tata Teleservices. Docomo said in April that it had resolved to sell its entire stake in the Indian firm.
MTN has also been linked with possible discussions with Reliance Communications — a company owned by billionaire Anil Ambani — and Idea Cellular, India’s third largest mobile operator with more than 121m subscribers.
Tata Teleservices, which is the sister company of Tata Communications — the controlling shareholder in South Africa’s Neotel — provides services to more than 450 000 towns and villages across India, offering mobile telephony (including CDMA and GSM access), fixed-wireless services and public payphones. It operates more than 60 000 base stations across the country, and has more than 84m customers, according to its website.
If MTN does make a play for Tata Teleservices, it would not be the first time it has attempted to enter the populous south Asian nation.
The JSE-listed telecommunications group has previously held unsuccessful merger talks with Reliance Communications and Bharti Airtel stretching back as far as late last decade. The talks with Bharti reached an advanced stage before breaking down.
Earlier this week, Harsh Goenka, who chairs RPG Enterprises, one of India’s largest business groupings, set tongues wagging when he posted on Twitter: “MTN doing due diligence of a large Mumbai-based telecom company. Will this mega deal happen?”
This led to speculation that it was in talks with Reliance. But Goenka may have been referring to the apparent discussions with Tata Teleservices, which is also based in Mumbai.
Tata Group appears keen to dispose of its telecoms assets. In South Africa, it’s agreed to sell Neotel to mobile operator Vodacom. It also held talks earlier this year with Vodafone about a possible deal. Reports say those talks didn’t lead anywhere.
Both Tata and MTN have a policy of not commenting on market speculation. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media