MTNL likely to bag Sri Lanka''s Suntel

MTNL is close to buying Sri Lankan fixed-line operator Suntel and has sent a high-level delegation to start technical assessment of the company, a prerequisite to formalising the deal.

If the acquisition materialises, Suntel would become the NYSE-listed MTNL''s first acquisition. It will also give MTNL a foothold in Sri Lanka''s fast-growing telecom market. It has a licence to offer fixed-line, cellular and ILD services in Mauritius.

MTNL is believed to have emerged as the highest bidder for Suntel with a bid between $160 and $180 million for the stakes held by its major investors, notably Nordic company Telia with a 55-per cent stake through its holding firm Overseas Telecom.

Suntel''s other shareholders are Sri Lanka''s Metrocorp, National Development Bank Of Sri Lanka, Townsend of Hong Kong and International Finance Corporation.

MTNL, which has been trying to grow business beyond Delhi and Mumbai, had lost the race for Saudi Arabia''s third mobile licence and fixed-line licence earlier this year. It had also lost a bid for a licence in Kenya.

The Colombo-based Suntel offers fixed-line service on CDMA-based technology on the WLL platform.