Bharti Airtel Ltd. said Thursday it will buy a 49% stake in the Indian broadband business of Qualcomm Inc. for about $165 million in a deal that will allow the company expand its fourth-generation high-speed data services.
Bharti will fully own Qualcomm’s units by the end of 2014 once commercial operations are launched and subject to some conditions, a joint press release said. It didn’t elaborate on the conditions for Bharti to take full control.
San Diego, California-based Qualcomm has licenses to offer broadband wireless services in the highly sought-after areas of Delhi and Mumbai–India’s largest cities–apart from Haryana and Kerala. The deal is in line with the mobile chipmaker’s plan in India to secure the use of the technology on which its proprietary chips are based and then exit the business.
Bharti, India’s largest mobile phone operator by subscribers, is betting on data services to bring in higher revenues as users pay more to watch movies and download songs on their mobile devices than for basis services such as voice telephone calls.
The company already has licenses to offer broadband wireless in four service areas–Kolkata, Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra. It recently launched fourth-generation services in Kolkata and Karnataka.
As of March end, the country had just about 13.79 million broadband users, compared with more than 919 million mobile telecom subscribers, indicating the potential for broadband in India as smartphone sales surge and India pushes higher Internet usage to boost its economy.
Qualcomm had paid more than $1 billion to the Indian government for the bandwidth that it won through a 2010 auction.
After the auction, Qualcomm formed separate joint-venture companies for the four service areas. It retained a 74% stake in each of them, while India’s Global Holding Corporation Pvt. Ltd. and Tulip Telecom Ltd. took 13% each in them.
Indian law allows foreign companies to hold only up to 74% of local telecom joint ventures.
Under the deal announced Thursday, Bharti will buy the 26% held by Global Holding and Tulip in each of the entities, and the rest through a fresh issue of shares that the ventures will make.
“Qualcomm expects to provide technical assistance to Bharti in connection with network architecture,” the U.S. chipmaker said.
Following the deal, shares of Bharti closed 5.6% up at INR297.80 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, compared with a 1.7% gain in the benchmark.