Bharti consolidates fibre assets as it walks away from planned re-org

Bharti Airtel has abandoned plans to reorganise its business, buoyed by the Indian telecoms reform package, but is still shuffling certain assets, including bringing a fibre business in house.

Mary Lennighan

January 6, 2022

3 Min Read
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Bharti Airtel has abandoned plans to reorganise its business, buoyed by the Indian telecoms reform package, but is still shuffling certain assets, including bringing a fibre business in house.

That last point is noteworthy, given that it comes at a time at which many international telecoms operators are spinning off fibre assets into new entities, often looking to capitalise on investor appetites for infrastructure businesses. In a similar vein, Bharti transferred its own fibre assets to Telesonic Networks some four years ago, but now it is bringing the unit back into Airtel.

“Under a modified scheme, the Company, as previously approved by the Board, will merge its wholly owned subsidiary Telesonic Networks Limited, resulting in consolidation of its fiber assets into Airtel. In addition, Nettle Infrastructure Investments Limited will also be merged with Airtel,” Bharti said, in a statement this week. Nettle Infrastructure Investments, as its name suggests, focuses on setting up and funding companies in the telecoms space and adjacent industries.

Bharti’s statement comes as part of a broader announcement, in which it shared that it has called off plans set out last spring to re-organise its business. Essentially, the firm had intended to fold its digital assets under Airtel Digital into the listed Bharti Airtel, while also splitting its telecoms activities into a new entity, known simply as Airtel. Its stated aim was to sharpen its focus on the digital sector, while at the same time unlocking value, which is another way of saying it hoped to improve its liquidity.

However, its financial position is now looking brighter, in no small part due to the government’s introduction of a much-hyped telecoms reform package in September. The raft of measures laid out by the state included relief on dues and deferred payments for spectrum. The package “will provide relief by easing liquidity and cash flow,” the government said, in a statement at the time.

It appears to be having the desired effect.

“The seminal telecom sector reforms package announced by the Government of India has significantly boosted the outlook and investor confidence for the industry while simplifying the license framework. With a strong balance sheet and 5G ready network, Bharti Airtel…is well positioned to invest aggressively in the emerging growth opportunities offered by India’s digital economy,” Bharti said on Tuesday.

Its board has agreed that the telco’s existing corporate structure is “optimal for leveraging these emerging opportunities and unlocking value while continuing to scale up Airtel’s digital businesses,” it added. As such, the new corporate structure proposed in April is now off the table.

Certain elements will go ahead though, including the aforementioned merger of Telesonic Networks and Nettle Infrastructure Investments into Airtel. The telco will also push on with plans to wrap its Bharti Telemedia DTH business into Airtel as part of a drive to provide converged services, but it has still not set a date for that manoeuvre; it will happen “eventually,” it says.

Bharti Airtel noted that it will continue to categorise its operations around four key pillars: India, Digital, International, and Infrastructure. That underscores the fact that the now-abandoned reorganisation was simply a financial move that it no longer requires. Which is in itself an encouraging sign for the Indian telecoms market.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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