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France Tele, AT&T want to get back

Talks on with new telecom licence-holders, including France Telecom and AT&T, for ventures in India, reports Suman Layak.
Hindustan Times | By Suman Layak, Mumbai
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2008 08:54 PM IST

Global telecom majors, including France Telecom and AT&T, are eyeing an India play and are looking at an opportunity to buy into one of the six new players in the Indian telecom sector. Companies from West Asia and Russia also have a keen interest in India.

Nine companies were given telecom licences recently, of which six are new players. They are STel Ltd, Shyam Telelink, Swan Telecom, Loop Telecom (a subsidiary of BPL Telecom), Unitech and Videocon’s unit Datacom Solutions. Shyam Telelink has already forged a joint venture with Russian Sistema. The older players are Spice Telecom, Idea Cellular and Tata Teleservices.

Another Russian company, Ultima Holding, is reportedly in talks with Unitech. UK’s Virgin Mobile has tied up with Tata Teleservices. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Emirates Telecommunications of the United Arab Emirates has said it is in talks with Spice Communications for a joint venture. They have also held talks with other Indian companies.

AT&T refused to comment on speculation that it is looking at tying up with Datacom Solutions. The company spokesperson refused to comment in an emailed reply to Hindustan Times.

France Telecom did not respond to emailed queries that were sent to their spokespersons on both Tuesday and Wednesday. However, earlier they have denied reports about being in talks with Reliance Communications for bringing its Orange brand to India. The Orange brand was last owned by Hutch in India and was used in Mumbai. The brand may see a comeback in case France Telecom is able to swing the deal with one of the new licensees.

AT&T was a shareholder in the venture that is now known as Idea Cellular. At one point of time the venture was co-owned by the Birlas, Tatas and AT&T and popularly known as ‘Batata’. France Telecom was also looking at a stake in that venture at a few years ago. AT&T later sold out to the Tatas, making it a Tata-Birla venture before the Tatas exited the company.

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