Bharti Airtel to acquire Qualcomm’s Indian BWA concessions?

18 Mar 2011

Indian mobile giant Bharti Airtel is thought to be considering the acquisition of those Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) concessions awarded to US-based chipmaker Qualcomm in June last year, according to the Indian Economic Times. It is claimed that Qualcomm, which paid INR49.13 billion (USD1.05 billion) for four wireless broadband licences in the Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala and Haryana circles, is looking to sell the concessions at a small premium, with any deal expected to fetch between USD1.2 billion and USD1.3 billion.

The development is the latest in a line of rumours regarding Qualcomm’s intentions for its wireless broadband licences, with reports in October 2010 initially claiming that the American firm had approached a number of the country’s major mobile network operators with a view to selling off 100% stakes in the four spectrum-holding companies, either as altogether or in two separate chunks. It was suggested that the Delhi and Haryana concessions could be offered as one pair, while Mumbai and Kerala would be offered as a second combination. Further, the report also claimed that Qualcomm has informed potential buyers that they would be required to give an undertaking that the spectrum in question would only be used to offer Long Term Evolution-based (LTE-based) services. Bharti, which itself won BWA licences for the Karnataka, Calcutta, Punjab and Maharashtra circles in the June 2010 auctions, was subsequently mooted as one potential buyer for the Delhi-Haryana licence combo, while rival cellco Aircel was reportedly eyeing the Mumbai-Kerala concession combo.

On the back of the latest development Qualcomm has refused to confirm that it is selling the licence to Bharti Airtel, but did note: ‘Qualcomm has publicly stated that it will work with 3G operators to develop the 3G+LTE ecosystem, commercially deploy LTE TDD in the broadband wireless spectrum, and then exit its India venture. Consistent with those goals, discussions with 3G operators in India on LTE TDD commercialisation and commercial discussions related to Qualcomm’s broadband spectrum are indeed ongoing. These discussions are however confidential and Qualcomm cannot comment on speculation regarding specifics.’

India, Bharti Airtel, Qualcomm (India)