NEW DELHI: The Bharti Airtel group has a lot more on its agenda than just Zain Telecom where international acquisitions are

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concerned.




Sources close to the company confirm that Sunil Bharti Mittal and his team have identified nearly a dozen international acquisition targets MTN, Warid and Zain being just the first three. "The loss of MTN was a big one and it will take far more than Zain or Warid to fulfil Bharti's international ambitions," says an investment banker.

Agrees Kunal Bajaj, managing director of BDA India, a telecom consultancy firm, "Bharti is on the hunt for suitable M&As in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe which are hot pockets of growth in telecom" . The irony Mittal is chasing international targets, while international operators like Telenor, Etisalat and Bahrain Telecom are still seeking investment opportunities in India, is not unexplained.

Bharti is left with little choice but to go overseas and in rapid succession . This is because while the company remains India's market leader, the telecom market is in a turmoil with voice revenues, which still constitute over 90% of the total revenue stream, dropping heavily with half paise/second tariff offers . Mobile data revenues are insignificant and unlikely to grow in a substantive fashion. So unlike the west where transition from voice to data for large operators was smooth, India is expected to confront serious pain in the next 36 months.

"The Indian market is presently very tough from a strategic perspective . Clearly, no other service like data or VAS will make up for the rapidly shrinking margins in the voice business for at least 24 months or till consolidation kicks in," says Bajaj.