India-based telecoms giant Bharti Airtel is considering mergers or stake sales at several of its African subsidiaries as part of its ongoing effort to cut back its roughly USD12 billion debt profile, Bloomberg reports. Group chairman Sunil Mittal said that it could reduce its footprint on the continent within the next year, having recently sold its Burkina Faso (June 2016) and Sierra Leone (July 2016) units, bringing the number of African nations in which it operates down to 15. Mr Mittal did not specify which countries the company may look to exit, whilst the sale of Airtel’s Indian tower arm, Bharti Infratel, is also under consideration. The sales will also help the group shore up its domestic operation, which has come under intense competitive pressure from newcomer Reliance Jio Infocomm (Jio) which has shaken up the market with free promotional offers and the long-term promise of free voice services.
The Airtel head noted that Jio’s entrance is likely to force out many of the smaller providers, including Norwegian-owned cellco Telenor India. Indeed, the Economic Times writes that Airtel is entering the final stages of discussions with Telenor regarding a potential acquisition of the smaller provider. An acquisition would lead to Airtel taking on approximately INR15 billion (USD219.7 million) of extra debt, but would also add highly valuable 4G-compatible 1800MHz frequencies in seven circles to the cellco’s spectrum portfolio.