A Vodafone Logo on Top of a Telecom Tower in Berlin, Germany (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Vodafone Says It Got India's Conditional Approval for Idea Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Vodafone Group Plc said it received approval from the Indian government to combine with Idea Cellular Ltd., a deal first announced 16 months ago.

India’s Department of Telecommunication has approved the merger provided arrears amounting to as much as 72.5 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) are paid to the government, according to the department’s order seen by Bloomberg. The outstanding amount is for airwaves.

The combination will create India’s largest mobile-phone company and help the firms compete with billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., which upended the world’s second-largest mobile-phone market by offering free calls and cheap data. Idea has reported losses every quarter since Jio started services in September 2016.

“Happy to get the merger letter,” Vodafone Chief Executive Officer-designate Nick Read told reporters after meeting with officials of India’s telecom ministry. “We will remain competitive.”

Of the total arrears to be paid, more than 39 billion rupees is for aligning Vodafone’s airwaves, allocated at a fixed price in the pre-auction era, to market prices, while the rest is a one-time spectrum charge levied on billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla-led Idea, according to a telecom department’s letter.

The merger, announced in March 2017, will topple current market leader Bharti Airtel Ltd. and create a behemoth with 438.8 million subscribers.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.