India seems to be the battleground for internet giants like Google, Facebook, VodafoneIdea, Jio and the list just included Sunil Mittal-owned Airtel and e-commerce titan Amazon.com.
The Indian telecom sector has been buzzing with reports of potential Merger & Acquisition (M&A) activity ever since Jio Platforms, the digital arm of Reliance Industries, announced a series of stake sale deals with global.
Jeff Bezos’s Amazon is in early-stage talks to buy a stake worth at least $2 billion in Bharti Airtel, one of the leading telecom players in India.
At this amount, the US online retailer would get a stake of roughly 5% in the telco, and access to more than 300 million Airtel’s subscribers which will prove as a user base akin to the entire U.S. population.
According to a report by Reuters, citing anonymous sources, the talks between the two companies are still in early stages, and the details of the deal could change at any point. It is also possible that a deal might not be reached, but it seems unlikely for Amazon to step back now that American technology and investment giants have been buying stakes in Indian companies to build their presence in Asia’s second-most populous nation and its peers have either reached a deal or are in talks.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company does "not offer comments on speculation of what we may or may not do in future."
Airtel said they routinely work with all digital players to bring their products, content and services to customers. "Beyond that, there is no other activity to report," it said in a statement.
Over a past couple of weeks, U.S’s tech giants growing attraction in India’s digital economy can be clearly seen. Facebook agreed to invest about $5.7 billion into a unit of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. in April, while Microsoft Corp. is reportedly considering a stake in the same company. Reliance's digital unit has also raised $10 billion in recent weeks from Facebook, KKR and others. Another US tech giant, Google, is also reportedly mulling to buy a 5% stake in troubled telco Vodafone Idea. Its shares have since rallied by more than 50% since the news broke.
Amazon already has deep roots in India and counts the country as a crucial growth market. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos has visited and vowed to build one of his biggest e-commerce operations outside of the US and had also committed $6.5 billion in investments mainly toward expanding its e-commerce footprint. Now the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos’s Seattle-based company has in recent years also expanded its digital offerings in India via its voice-activated speakers, video streaming and cloud storage, as it seeks to tap a rising number of internet and smartphone users in the country of 1.3 billion people.