Indian mobile operator in talks to exit Indus Towers, says towers consolidation plan on ice.

Idea Cellular is working on two transactions to rid itself of its telecoms towers businesses ahead of a possible merger deal with rival Vodafone, it emerged this week.

The Indian mobile operator is looking to offload its 16% stake in Indus Towers to one of its joint venture partners Bharti Infratel and is also pushing ahead with the sale of towers held by its Idea Cellular Infrastructure Services (ICIS) unit, with American Tower having emerged as the most likely buyer, Livemint on Monday quoted two separate sources as saying.

The report comes just days after Vodafone confirmed that it is holding talks with Idea parent Aditya Birla Group about an all-share transaction that would see the pair merge their Indian mobile operations. Vodafone, also a partner in Indus Towers with a 42% stake, noted that its share in the towers business would not be included in any deal with Idea.

Idea Cellular has begun holding talks with Bharti Infratel about a further investment in Indus Towers, one of Livemint’s sources said. Like Vodafone, Bharti Infratel holds a 42% stake. Bharti Enterprises is reportedly looking to sell a minority stake in Bharti Infratel and could offer Idea’s stake in Indus Towers to that new investor, the source said.

Aditya Birla Group had planned to consolidate all its tower assets, including the Indus Towers stake, in a single holding company, with a view to selling off a stake in the resulting entity, the news service explained. However, an unnamed senior official at Idea Cellular said that plan is now on ice.

Indeed, last week the Economic Times reported that American Tower has emerged as the frontrunner to acquire the 11,000 towers held by ICIS, predicting a deal value of up to 45 billion rupees (€623 million).