Bharti Infratel, the tower arm of Bharti Airtel, said it has decided to explore the possibility of buying out the stakes of Idea Cellular and Vodafone in rival tower company Indus.

Bharti and Vodafone currently own about 42% each in Indus, while Idea holds about 11%. As a result, anyone who buys the stakes of Idea and Vodafone would get control of the company, with Bharti reduced to a minority player.

Vodafone and Idea are engaged in a merger of their operations, which would disrupt the balance of power in Indus. Indus was formed by the pooling of towers of Airtel, Idea and Vodafone to facilitate more transparent sharing of the assets.

It currently hosts tens of thousands of base stations for each of these operators.

“The Board of Directors of Bharti Infratel Limited, in their meeting held on October 30, 2017, has decided to explore and evaluate acquisition of stake in one or more tranches in Indus Towers Limited with the aim of making it a subsidiary or wholly owned subsidiary of Bharti Infratel Limited,” Infratel said.

The move is likely to be seen as a favorable one, given how Idea in particular is keen to raise more money to pump into the merged entity.

The Aditya Birla Group is committed to putting in thousands of crores of rupees into the joint entity and taking its stake in the merged Vodafone-Idea at par with that of Vodafone.

However, it is not clear whether Vodafone would be interested in selling the Indus Tower stake.

Tower companies are among the few bright spots in the rather desolate looking telecom landscape in India.

Even as the operators bleed due to interconnect charges and heavy expenses on 4G rollout, much of their increased operating expenses have accrued to tower operators.

With 5G around the corner, the demand for hoists and masts is likely to go up, and with it, the fortunes of tower companies.

“Leading operators have announced enhanced investment plans towards improvising digital infrastructure during the recently concluded India Mobile Congress. The Government of India’s Smart Cities program presents additional opportunity to create infrastructure for sharing on a non-discriminatory basis,” said Akhil Gupta, Chairman, Bharti Infratel.

“All of this is good for the sector at large. As Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers, we are well positioned to grab our fair share of market and create sustainable value for all stakeholders.”

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