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Maxis weighing various options on Aircel investment

Thomas K Thomas
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Mr Sandip Das, Chief Executive Officer of Maxis Berhad
Mr Sandip Das, Chief Executive Officer of Maxis Berhad

Final call after policy issues are settled, says CEO Sandip Das

Malaysia-based Maxis Berhad is weighing multiple options on its investments in the Indian mobile company Aircel. This includes a complete exit, a partial stake sale or even an initial public offering.

Speaking to Business Line, Mr Sandip Das, Chief Executive Officer, Maxis Berhad, said that there will be no distress sale. “Given the uncertainty in the telecom sector, valuations are all over the place. Why should someone who has heavily invested suddenly pull out? Our objective at the end of the day is that we want to create a strong property.”

“Will a merger make the company stronger, or will we a buy out someone, or we might bring in a strategic partner, for example in the data business. Or we could even look at an IPO because it’s become difficult get moment from banks. All these options are available,” he said.

Aircel has been embroiled in one controversy or the other over the past few years starting from the arbitration proceedings initiated by its earlier promoter Mr C. Sivasankaran. The latest allegations involving former Telecom Minister Mr Dayanidhi Maran and the Home Minister P Chidambaram’s son has only vitiated the environment for the company.

4G launch

Although the last 18 months have been tough for the company, it has not lost sight of its objective to be a major data player, according to Mr Das.

The company is all set to launch its fourth generation-based broadband networks by the fourth quarter of this year. It is also tying up with device vendors and content developers to create an ecosystem to replicate its parent Maxis’ success in data service back in Malaysia.

“Maxis has a great non-voice business plan and it has the ability to give us the knowledge, which we could quickly duplicate here,” he said. Aircel recently rejigged its top level management to make an aggressive move on data market, including a new Chief Operating Officer, Mr Jean Pascal

But as of now, with 64 million subscribers, Aircel does not figure among the top 5 players in the market. But that does not worry Mr Das. “Not being number 1 or 3 is not an issue in India. How many businesses are there in the world which has 60 million subscribers? The real issue is how quickly we can break even,” he said.

Policy concerns

The immediate concern for the company is the uncertainty over policy on spectrum fees compounded by the fact that some of its licences are old and some new. “We want spectrum to be given up to 6.2 Mhz which is our legitimate right. That’s the contract which we signed with the Government and it can’t be changed mid-way after having invested billions and created so many jobs,” Mr Das said.

tkt@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 11, 2012)
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