Vodafone (LON: VOD) has agreed to merge its Indian operations with Idea Cellular (NSE: IDEA) in an all-share deal valued at $23 billion. The UK wireless carrier will retain a 45.1% stake in the combined company, with Idea owner Aditya Birla Group holding a 26% share and other Idea stakeholders claiming the remaining 28.9%. Aditya Birla has the right to acquire more shares from Vodafone, as the owners look to equalize the holdings over time.
Although the deal creates India's largest telecom and wireless service provider at roughly 400 million customers, leapfrogging India’s No. 2 provider Bharti Airtel (NSE: BHARTIARTL), the combined company will still face stiff competition from new rival Reliance Jio. Founded last year by Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries (NSE: RELIANCE), India’s richest businessman, Jio has been offering free service to customers on its new 4G network. That's already proved too much for some competitors.
Norway’s Telenor (STO: TELO) agreed late last month to sell its Indian operations to Bharti Airtel, adding 44 million customers to the company’s network of 269 million subscribers. And Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices and Aircel have already undertaken negotiations to merge, according to India's Economic Times.
Deal flow among telecom and wireless service providers is nothing new, with consolidation among a given country's handful of top providers now far from uncommon. Companies in this competitive space have accounted for 1,116 M&A deals worldwide since 2010, according to data from the PitchBook Platform.
Global telecom and wireless service provider M&A activity
Deal count fell off last year to 2010's level, with 154 completed transactions. In 2015, the deal wave in this space crested at 201, just under 20% of the total for the period. In that time, the share in the deal count among global regions has fluctuated, as well.
Telecom and wireless service provider M&A by global region
In 2011, Europe accounted for the bulk of M&A deals among telecom and wireless service providers at 75, or 58% of the total. That year also registered the lowest ebb for dealmaking in the US at just 25 completed transactions, or 19% of activity. In 2016, Asia clocked its highest count since 2010, with 19 deals accounting for nearly 13% of last year's total.
The deal between Vodafone India and Idea Cellular is expected to close in 2018. At $23 billion, the deal lands in the same ballpark as CenturyLink's $24 billion acquisition of Qwest Communications in 2011 and SoftBank's acquisition of Sprint for some $22 billion in 2013.
Idea’s shares finished down 10% on the news Monday in Mumbai, with Vodafone ending off half a point in London.
PitchBook Platform users can access the full data on investment activity among telecom and wireless service providers.