Bharti Airtel Limited, India’s largest telecommunications services provider and Tata, India’s leading conglomerate, today announced that they have entered into an understanding to merge Consumer Mobile Businesses (CMB) of TTSL and TTML into Bharti Airtel.

The move is likely to give Airtel access to sub-GHz spectrum for expanding its 4G network, while preventing Tata Teleservices from a shutdown.

As part of the Agreement, Bharti Airtel will absorb Tata Teleservices’ consumer operations across the country in nineteen circles (17 under TTSL and 2 under TTML).

These circles represent bulk of India’s population and customer base, Bharti Airtel said.

The proposed merger will include transfer of all the customers and assets of Tata CMB to Bharti Airtel, further augmenting Bharti Airtel’s overall customer base and network.

It will also enable Bharti Airtel to further bolster its strong spectrum foot-print with the addition of 178.5 MHz spectrum (of which 71.3 MHz is liberalised) in the 850, 1800 & 2100 MHz bands.

Bharti Airtel will ensure quality services to Tata CMB’s customers, while offering them the added benefits of its innovative product portfolio, access to superior voice & data services, mobile banking, VAS and domestic/ international roaming facilities.

Tata CMB’s operations and services will continue as normal until the completion of the transaction, it said.

The transaction will exclude the enterprise connectivity services provided by Tata Teleservices, which are closely entwined with Tata Communications.

“Tata and Bharti Airtel will work together to further explore other mutual areas of cooperation, that will be value accretive for both the Groups. The transaction will also provide Bharti Airtel with an indefeasible right to use (IRU) for part of the existing fibre network of Tata,” Bharti Airtel said.

The merger is being done on a debt-free cash-free basis, except for Bharti Airtel assuming a small portion of the unpaid spectrum liability of Tata’s towards the DoT, which is to be paid on deferred basis.

The bulk of the debt will remain in the non-merged portion of the business.

The employees of Tata will be demerged on the lines of the two businesses i.e. CMB and EFL (Enterprise and Fixed Line and Broadband), and post an optimal manpower planning will be moved accordingly.

Tata is also in initial stages of exploring combination of its Enterprise Business with Tata Communications and its Retail Fixed Line and Broadband business with Tata Sky, the statement added.

“Any such transaction will be subject to respective boards and other requisite approvals. Tata will retain its stake in Viom, and will take care of the liabilities associated with it,” it said.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Airtel, said, “This is a significant development towards further consolidation in the Indian mobile industry and reinforces our commitment to lead India’s digital revolution by offering world-class and affordable telecom services through a robust technology and solid spectrum portfolio.

On completion, the proposed acquisition will undergo seamless integration, both on the customer as well as the network side, and further strengthen our market position in several key circles. The customers of Tata will be able to enjoy India’s widest and fastest voice & data network, and bouquet of Airtel’s best-in-class products and services.”

“The acquisition of additional spectrum made an attractive business proposition. It will further strengthen our already solid portfolio and create substantial long term value for our shareholders given the significant synergies,” he added.

Bharti Board which met this afternoon has approved this transaction.

N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, said, “We believe today’s agreement is the best and most optimal solution for the Tata Group and its stakeholders. Finding the right home for our longstanding customers and our employees has been the priority for us. We have evaluated multiple options and are pleased to have this agreement with Bharti.” The Boards of Tata Sons, TTSL and TTML have approved this transaction. Goldman Sachs (India) Securities Private Limited is financial advisor to Tata.

The move is seen as inevitable, at least from the perspective of Tata Teleservices, as its business had become more or less unviable due to the changing market conditions brought about by the entry of Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio.

For Airtel, the deal gives some ammunition in its fight to stay at the top of the game as rivals, such as Idea Cellular and Vodafone, consolidate for scale.

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