India round-up: ATC plots Viom merger; Videocon upgrades to EDGE; NOFN deadline brought forward; Tata allows unused data rollover

1 Dec 2014

American Tower Corp (ATC) is close to snapping up a 51% stake in tower firm Viom Networks in a deal estimated to be worth around USD900 million-USD1 billion, the Economic Times reports. According to unnamed sources close to the transaction, ATC will buy out minority shareholder Srei, which hold an 18.5% stake in Viom, as well as purchasing a chunk of the shares currently held by Tata Group, the latter set to reduce its stake from 54% to 26%-30%. ATC is also expected to scoop up shares from a number of small stakeholders to gain majority ownership of the firm. Following the transaction, Viom will be merged with ATC’s Indian division, adding the latter’s 12,000 towers to Viom’s roughly 42,000 sites.

Videocon, one of India’s smallest cellcos, with a market share of less than 1% at the end of September 2014 according to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, is planning to spend INR1.3 billion (USD20.9 million) to upgrade its 2G GSM network with EDGE technology. The upgrade is to be a stepping stone towards the operator’s planned 4G launch next year, a senior official noted. CEO Arvind Bali was quoted as saying: ‘In India, 80% of mobile internet users still use 2G data-enabled handsets. This is where we devised our strategy to upgrade our network to 2.75G EDGE technology, which is capable of delivering almost eight times the speed of conventional 2G networks.’ The overhaul is to be carried out by Huawei, the upgrade spanning the cellco’s packet core, base station controllers (BSCs), cache servers and network capacity. In addition, the Chinese vendor will also roll out its Long Term Evolution (LTE)-ready packet core network in six circles.

The government has brought forward the deadline for the rollout of the national optical fibre network (NOFN) to 250,000 village panchayats from March 2017 to December 2016. The deadline for the first two stages of the deployment, covering 50,000 and 100,000 village panchayats, remains unchanged, with those targets to be reached by March 2015 and March 2016 respectively.

Tata DOCOMO has waded into the mobile data ‘price war’ by allowing its pre-paid users to carry forward unused 2G and 3G data when they top up. Under the new scheme, users can carry forward any unused data from their plan as long as they top-up before their existing plan expires. Tata commented that it has introduced the feature to enable customers to better manage their data usage.