Indian mobile operator backs off from plan to sell off a controlling stake in its towers business as Vodafone/Idea announcement looms.

Bharti Airtel this week revealed that it will not sell a controlling stake in its towers business but will offload a significant chunk of the unit to an existing subsidiary or to other potential investors.

After months of speculation over the future of the Infratel business, the Indian mobile operator made the announcement in a stock market filing on Wednesday.

In October the company charged a board committee with evaluating its options for the monetisation of what it termed "a significant stake" in Infratel.

"The board has at its meeting held on 14 March 2017, on the recommendation of the [committee], decided not to monetise a controlling stake in Infratel for now," Bharti said, in a statement.

Instead, it plans to divest up to 400 million shares in the towers business to its wholly-owned subsidiary Nettle Infrastructure Investments and/or to any other potential investors, it said.

As a result, Bharti Airtel will be left with a 50.33% stake in Infratel, while Nettle and any other investors will hold 21.63%, leaving the public and other shareholders with 28.04%.

Like many of their peers the world over, India’s mobile operators are looking closely at ways to monetise their various towers assets.

Last month reports emerged that Idea Cellular is working on two separate transactions to divest its towers ahead of a possible merger deal with Vodafone India.

One of those deals could see Idea sell a 16% stake in Indus Towers to Bharti Infratel, one of its joint venture partners in the business, Livemint reported, citing unnamed sources. Infratel already holds a 42% stake in Indus Towers.

A formal announcement of the Idea/Vodafone deal could come this week, the Economic Times noted on Wednesday.

The paper predicted that the parties will announce a 50:50 joint venture worth around €21 billion.