Millicom rejects BSNL's Lankan bid; Bharti Airtel still in fray

Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular has rejected a bid by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd to acquire its operations in Sri Lanka because the price quoted was too low.

Senior BSNL officials said that the bid amount quoted by the PSU was not accepted by Millicom. However, other Indian players, including Bharti Airtel, continue to be in the race, along with the United Arab Emirates' Etisalat and Russia's Vimpelcom. Malaysia's Axiata, the international arm of Telekom Malaysia, also saw its bid rejected, according to reports.

Bharti Airtel had recently launched its GSM services in Sri Lanka and is be keen to increase its market share through this acquisition, particularly in the light of its merger talks with South Africa's MTN.

On Wednesday, BSNL's chairman and managing director Kuldeep Goyal had told reporters that the state-owned company had put in a bid for Celltel, without providing details. (See: BSNL eyes Luxembourg telecom firm's Sri Lanka unit, Celltel)

However, on Thursday Goyal confirmed to the Economic Times that BSNL's bid for Celltel had been rejected by Millicom. ''We did not match their expectations on the price front. Perhaps we were not aggressive enough,'' he said. He, however, refused to divulge the price that BSNL had offered to buyout Celltel.

Reuters quoted an unnamed BSNL source as saying, ''Yes, at the moment it (BSNL's bid) has been rejected because it offered the least attractive price. But there is a chance that they may come back if other bids do not materialise.''

Millicom's Sri Lanka unit Celltell has about 15 per cent of the market share, with about two million subscribers in the country. In July this year, Millicom International had put its operations across Cambodia, Laos and Sri Lanka on the block. It said it had received expressions of interest for its Asian assets and that it had appointed Goldman Sachs as an advisor for the transaction.