Vodafone Invests $7.1 Billion in India Unit as Jio Rolls Outby
Funds will be used to expand wireless network, buy airwaves
4G auction also looms as billionaire Ambani’s Jio enters fray
Vodafone Group Plc has invested 477 billion rupees ($7.2 billion) in its India unit, bolstering the local carrier’s finances as it prepares to go public amid rising competition and a pending airwaves auction.
Vodafone India, which received the infusion during the first fiscal half, will use the funds to expand its network and participate in the auction for spectrum that can be used for 4G services, the carrier said in a statement. About $3 billion was a conversion of debt into equity, Economic Times reported Wednesday. A Vodafone spokesman had no immediate comment on the structure of the investment.
The investment gives Vodafone India more firepower in the crowded market, weeks after billionaire Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, began operating his mobile-phone carrier Jio by offering free phone calls. That’s put pressure on existing operators in a market that already offers some of the world’s lowest tariffs. India is also planning its biggest sale of spectrum, seeking to raise 5.6 trillion rupees by selling airwaves as carriers gear up to expand high-speed mobile internet services.
“The investment by Vodafone in the Indian unit is a positive move as it goes to show that they want to grow in the market as well as demonstrates that the incumbents need to upgrade their technology and networks with the entry of Jio,” said Gaurang Shah, vice president at Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services Ltd. in Mumbai. “This will also give confidence to potential investors and help spur interest in the IPO.”
Vodafone India hasn’t said when it will go public. The company plans to raise as much as $3 billion, people familiar with the matter said in April.
Vodafone, India’s second-largest wireless operator, may be the biggest spender at the auction by offering as much as 163 billion rupees for airwaves, according to Sanford C. Bernstein estimates.
The sale will help reduce buffering on videos and speed up downloads for India’s 1 billion-plus users who make up the world’s second-largest smartphone market. The government plans to sell airwaves in every band.