'Bharti Airtel seeking South African partner again'

Bharti Airtel

Bharti Airtel is trying to get a South African partner again, three years after its failed bid to link up with local giant MTN, a media report has said.

The weekly Sunday Times, citing an unnamed source close to Bharti Airtel Africa, said the company is still seeking expansion on the African continent after it gained a presence in 15 north, west and east African countries following its acquisition of Zain Telecom's business on the continent soon after the MTN deal fell through.

Industry speculation has been that Bharti Airtel wants to make a bid for either Cell C, the third largest mobile company in South Africa, or latest entrant 8ta, an offshoot of former state monopoly Telkom, the report said.

With 8ta battling to gain a foothold, analysts felt that any bid by Bharti would be for Cell C instead, it added.

The report said Cell C and Bharti Airtel did not comment on the latest speculation, while Telkom said there had been no approach made to it.

There has also been speculation in recent weeks about a merger between Cell C and 8ta after Cell C Chief Executive Officer Alan Knot-Craig hinted that a consolidation within the industry in South Africa was inevitable for it to be viable.

Analyst Chris Gilmour told the weekly that although Cell C would be a likelier acquisition for Bharti Airtel than 8ta, it would probably be more expensive as it had a well-established infrastructure and customer base.

8ta's main attraction to Bharti Airtel would be the access it currently has to a lot of 2.3GHz spectrum, which was a legacy from Telkom.

But the industry regulator was unlikely to approve 8ta selling off this spectrum to anyone buying the company, especially since it was awarded to Telkom and not 8ta directly after hot contestation and protests by the other operators in the industry, according to analyst Arthur Goldstuck of Worlwideworx, who advised Bharti Airtel to look at other ventures in South Africa instead.

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