Bharti Airtel bids for RCom spectrum, Jio seeks deadline extension

Bharti Airtel bids for RCom spectrum, Jio seeks deadline extension

The Bharti group, through two of its companies, on Tuesday made a conditional bid for the spectrum of Reliance Communications (RCom) even as Reliance Jio asked for an extension of the November 12 deadline to make an offer under insolvency proceedings.

The interim resolution professional (RP) had invited prospective companies to make a bid for the company as a going concern with assets and businesses like telecom towers, spectrum, a fibre network, real estate, and an enterprise business, in order to recover debts of more than Rs 33,000 crore of secured creditors.

It is believed that apart from Bharti Airtel and Bharti Infratel, there are four players that have made a bid. They include US-based Varde Partners, a private equity fund that has a joint venture in India with the Aditya Birla group. But the joint venture has not made the bid, sources say. An e-mail query to Varde Partners did not elicit any response.

A Bharti spokesperson, in response to an e-mail query, said: “A conditional bid has been made primarily for the spectrum, which is a precious asset. Bid conditions include that the overall consideration will primarily be by way of the deferred spectrum payable to the government being passed on to us on terms and schedules applicable to such deferred payments”.

Reliance Jio, according to sources, has asked for an extension of the deadline by 10 days. However, it is not clear as to whether the RP, Anish Nanavaty, has granted it, and queries to him did not elicit any response.

According to sources, if an extension is not given, RCom’s committee of creditors is expected to meet in a day or two to discuss the various offers.

Jio has been using the 58 MHz of RCom spectrum in the 800 MHz band across 21 circles through an agreement signed earlier. This is crucial for 4G services. The licence for the spectrum ends in 2021.

Last year it signed an agreement to buy its assets, which included 43,000 telecom towers and 178,000 kilometres of fibre, and use the spectrum. But the deal did not fructify because the Department of Telecommunications insisted that Jio or the RCom promoters give an undertaking that they would be responsible for paying any past dues. Jio refused to give an undertaking. Even the creditors could not come to a consensus whether to clear the asset sale, and, as a result, RCom went to the national Company Law Tribunal.

The sale of RCom has become complicated because in accordance with the Supreme Court order on adjusted gross revenue, it has to fork out more than Rs 16,456 crore (this does not include spectrum user charges).

With its mobile business not operational, the DoT, analysts say, could make a claim from a prospective new buyer to pay the past dues.

For Bharti, which is planning to participate in the auction for spectrum, a deal for spectrum where the price is determined could make financial sense. But selling assets, say analysts, can happen only when the resolution plan fails and the company is put in liquidation.