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Airtel plans to create SPVs to manage towers business

American Towers, the US-based company that has declared its intention to invest in the towers business in India, owns only 14,000 sites worldwide, reports Suman Layak.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 19:46 IST

Sunil Mittal promoted Bharti Airtel is looking at hiving of its 40,000 odd telecom towers from the main telecom business thorough one or more special purpose vehicles.

American Towers, the US-based company that has declared its intention to invest in the towers business in India, owns only 14,000 sites worldwide.

Industry sources say that globally the value of a company owning 40,000 towers could easily be around $10 billion (Rs 45,000 crore).

Motilal Oswal had pegged Bharti's estimated net assets at Rs 24,797 crore by March 2007. Companies hive off the towers business in order to take passive assets out of the company's balance sheet.

A company, owning the towers can survive as an independent entity by letting all telecom operators share the tower assets and ear revenues from such rentals.

Sanjay Kapoor, the joint president of Bharti for mobile services said "Bharti has always supported infrastructure sharing. Sharing of towers, shelters, DGs and air-conditioning can lead to significant cost savings. While we share our passive infrastructure with others we do not comment on details."

Sources said that Bharti is in talks with foreign majors as well as Indian companies to form a joint venture. It is also considering the option of forming multiple joint ventures dividing up the towers region-wise.

Sources said that Bharti Airtel is considering all kinds of options for releasing value from its population of towers, which is the highest in India.

While GTL Infrastructure is one of the Indian companies that Bharti is talking to, they are also talking to some foreign players like American Towers and Mauritius-based IMIL.

Both the foreign companies have applied for approval of the Foreign Investment promotion Board for investing in the business of telecom towers in India.

Reliance Communication that has around 15,000 towers has already announced its plans to hive of these assets and enter into a strategic partnership with American Towers. Essar, which is a joint venture partner in Hutch Essar has also floated a company for managing its towers.

Industry sources said that the foreign companies that are showing an interest in India were looking at acquiring majority control or even 100 per cent ownership of the telecom assets of Indian telecom companies.

However, the telecom companies are also not keen to give up control of these assets at this stage, even as they open up these assets for sharing by other telecom companies. The telecom companies want to remain invested in these companies for some more time.

First Published: Dec 22, 2006 19:46 IST