Our Bureau

New Delhi, Dec 21

The battle for Hutchison has heated up with the UK-based telecom major Vodafone saying it will soon make its stand clear on the proposed acquisition.

The Vodafone board is expected to meet and decide on its bid for the Indian cellular company. According to sources close to the development, the valuation is now being pegged close to $17 billion by the prospective bidders for the acquisition of Hutchison Essar. This comes after sources in Hutch said the amount being quoted by various companies was very low.

It is understood that Reliance Communication was earlier putting together a corpus of $14 billion to acquire the GSM cellular business from Hutch. Now the company may wait for a bid from Vodafone before making a counter-offer. The other firms in the fray include Malaysia-based Maxis, which has 74 per cent stake in Indian mobile company Aircel. Maxis plans to roll out pan-Indian mobile services and the acquisition of Hutchison Essar could hasten its business plans. Though Maxis has new licences its rollout is dependant on availability of spectrum, which could take some more time.

All the companies refused to comment on the issue. Industry observers pointed out that the Essar Group, which has 33 per cent stake in the joint venture cellular company, held the key to the deal and may seek a premium for giving controlling stake to the buyer.

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Vodafone may join race for Hutch
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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 22, 2006)
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