Mukesh Ambani may enter telecom business with Idea, Videocon

Four years ago, the Ambani brothers parted ways dividing the Reliance Group into two with a promise they won’t compete against each other. In that partition, Anil Ambani walked away with Reliance Communications (RCOM), today the second-largest telecom company in India, which was incubated by elder brother Mukesh. Amid speculation that Mukesh may now want to re-enter the business, analysts said Idea may be ideal. As the Idea commercial says, ‘What an Idea, Sirji’.

Last week, the brothers annulled their no-compete agreement for all businesses, excluding gas-based power generation. The move opens oil exploration and refining to Anil, while power, financial services and telecommunications become available for the elder Ambani.

It is not clear whether Mukesh will enter the telecom business, or how. There is no publicly available information that any deal is in the works. ET spoke to a number of analysts to figure out the possible options before him.

“If Idea is available, RIL could get interested in re-entering the business,” said Gaurav Dua, head research, Sharekhan. “I have my doubts that RIL may enter the business to build it from scratch.”

Aditya Birla Group-owned Idea Cellular is the third-largest GSM service operator with 15%, or 65.3-million subscribers, as of April-end. It recently won third-generation, or 3G, bandwidth in 11 service areas, for a sum of Rs 5,769 crore.

The company also has an identity that is independent of the Reliance brand, which is currently associated with RCOM, the flagship company of Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG). It has often been said that Idea may be sold, given the right price, but what that is, only a few hazard a guess. Idea sold a stake to Axiata, formerly Telekom Malaysia, at around Rs 157 a share in June 2008. The stock is currently trading at Rs 50.

Axiata currently holds around 23% in Idea, 47% is held by promoters, while the rest is with institutional and retail investors.



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