Yet another Gulf telecom operator forays into India

January 19th, 2009 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Dubai, Jan 19 (IANS) Yet another Gulf telecom operator has forayed into the booming Indian market with Bahrain’s Batelco acquiring a 49 percent stake in the newly formed Indian operator S Tel.In a statement issued out of Manama, Bahrain, Batelco chairman Shaikh Hamad bin Abdulla Al-Khalifa said Jan 18 that a Batelco-led consortium has agreed to purchase a 49 percent shareholding in S Tel for $225 million.

Batelco is Bahrain’s leading telecom operator and has operations in six Gulf markets.

Batelco has partnered with Millennium Private Equity (MPE), a Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA)-regulated entity to form Batelco Millennium India Co Ltd (BMICL) to purchase the shares in S Tel, according to the statement.

According to Batelco chief executive Peter Kaliaropoulos, the acquisition of the S Tel stake will provide significant growth opportunities for Batelco in the expanding Indian market, the fastest growing market in the world.

“The successful completion of this deal supports our growth and expansion strategy in wireless and broadband markets and boosts Batelco’s long-term plans to diversify our geographical footprint and dramatically increase our scale,” Kaliaropoulos said.

“We explored a number of investment opportunities in India and S Tel was judged to be the most suitable investment for Batelco’s entry into the Indian telecommunications market. Our priority now is to assist S Tel to rapidly roll out network infrastructure and offer mobile services to customers,” he added.

S Tel, promoted by Chennai-based Sky City Foundations and Telecom Investments (Mauritius), is primarily looking at the northeastern and northwestern markets in India where the population is around 230 million and mobile penetration is less than 20 percent.

As of now, S Tel has been awarded licences to operate in Bihar, Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and the Northeast.

“S Tel will benefit operationally by leveraging synergies with Batelco, which, through BMICL, will be a significant shareholder in our company and together we would like to take a major part in shaping the future Indian telecommunication landscape,” S Tel director Santhosh Robert said in the statement.

Batelco is the second major Gulf telecom operator to foray into India in the last one year.

In September last year, the United Arab Emirates’ leading telecom operator Etisalat announced its foray into India by acquiring a 45 percent stake in Swan Telecom.

In the past, Qatar’s leading operator Qtel has also voiced its interest in the Indian market.

According to experts, the Indian market is attractive to the Gulf operators as the penetration level here is much less compared to the markets there and the companies there have huge cash surpluses and India offers wide-ranging opportunities.

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