Bharti tower unit to merge with Indus creating $14.6b telecom behemoth

A pedestrian looks up while walking past a Bharti Airtel Ltd. store in Mumbai, India, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

Bharti Airtel Ltd. agreed to merge its tower unit with Indus Towers Ltd. in a deal that creates a $14.6 billion operator of telecom facilities that’s the largest outside China.

The merger with Bharti Infratel Ltd. creates an entity controlling more than 163,000 towers across India, Bharti Airtel said in a statement Wednesday. Under the deal, Bharti Infratel agreed to pay 1,565 of its own shares for each Indus Tower share. Bharti Infratel stock closed at 329 rupees Tuesday in Mumbai.

Backed by billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal, Bharti Airtel is India’s largest mobile phone service and has been locked in a vicious price war that has led to eight straight quarters of declining earnings. The deal may give Indus greater bargaining leverage with customers as a price war erodes profit of wireless operators and prompts consolidation, including the planned merger of Idea Cellular Ltd. and Vodafone Group Plc’s India units.

Vodafone Group’s local business, which owned a 42 percent stake in Indus, will receive 783.1 million shares in the combined company, valuing the U.K.-based company’s stake at $4.3 billion, according to the statement. The merged entity will keep the Indus name and listing.

Under the deal, Idea has the option to sell its 11.15 percent stake in Indus for cash at the merger ratio that values the stake at $1 billion.

Bharti Infratel had said in October it would explore a deal related to its stake in closely held Indus.