Carlyle, Axiata Said to Enter Bids for India’s Viom Networks

Carlyle Group LP and Axiata Group Bhd. are among bidders for a majority stake in India’s Viom Networks Ltd., which owns mobile-phone towers in the country, said people with knowledge of the matter.

Carlyle and Axiata submitted first-round bids, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the matter is private. Gurgaon-based Viom, controlled by Indian carrier Tata Teleservices Ltd. and SREI Infrastructure Finance Ltd., may receive an equity valuation of as much as 80 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) in a sale, two of the people said.

“Tower companies are basically a good play on the emerging data story,” Shobhit Khare, an analyst at Motilal Oswal Securities Ltd. in Mumbai, said by phone. They will benefit from wireless carriers’ spending on high-speed fourth-generation networks over the next three years, Khare said.

The bidders are seeking control of a company that owns more than 40,000 towers as new entrants including billionaire Mukesh Ambani join the crowded Indian cellular services market. Smartphone shipments to India almost tripled last year to 44 million units, according to International Data Corp.

SREI Infrastructure rose 7.9 percent, the most since March 26, to 33.45 rupees in Mumbai trading yesterday. The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex index fell 0.3 percent.

Tata Teleservices may hold a stake in Viom after the sale, while some of the company’s private-equity investors will exit, one person said. Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte, Macquarie SBI Infrastructure Fund and the Oman Investment Fund are among Viom’s shareholders, according to its website.

Axiata Towers

Viom had less than 65 billion rupees of debt at the end of March, according to spokesman Shudeep Majumdar. Tata Teleservices holds a 53 percent stake in Viom, according to a March 28 report from Standard & Poor’s local unit Crisil Ltd.

Customers that use Viom’s towers include Tata Teleservices and Telenor ASA’s local unit, according to one of the people.

Sarika Kapoor Choksi, a spokeswoman for Tata Group, referred queries to Viom. Viom has hired advisers to explore capital-raising options including an initial public offering in London or New York, Majumdar said. He had no comment on bids from Carlyle and Axiata.

SREI Infrastructure Chairman Hemant Kanoria said Viom will seek to raise funds overseas after India’s elections and plans haven’t been concluded yet. Carlyle declined to comment in an e-mailed statement. Faridah Hashim, a spokeswoman for Kuala Lumpur-based Axiata, declined to comment.

Axiata also has operations in Indonesia and is the second-largest shareholder in India’s Idea Cellular Ltd. The company plans to list its tower assets within two years, James Maclaurin, chief financial officer at the time, said in October.

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