Qualcomm to sell Indian broadband operation to Bharti Airtel by 2014

Qualcomm had bid for licenses to popularize LTE technology, and then exit the venture

Bharti Airtel has invested about US$165 million to acquire a 49 percent stake in Qualcomm's Indian entities that hold broadband wireless licenses, with the Indian mobile operator eventually taking full ownership, the companies said Thursday.

The deal gives Bharti Airtel, which has already started rolling out fourth generation (4G) services in India, access to more spectrum and service areas in which to roll out the service.

Qualcomm holds licenses in Delhi, Mumbai, Haryana, and Kerala after bidding in an auction in 2010. The metropolitan cities of Mumbai and Delhi are large markets for broadband and mobile services.

Under the agreement, once commercial operations are launched, Bharti Airtel will assume complete ownership and financial responsibility for the broadband wireless entities by the end of 2014, subject to certain unspecified terms and conditions.

Bharti Airtel already has BWA licenses in four service areas - Kolkata, Karnataka, Punjab and Maharashtra - and 3G licenses in thirteen services areas in the country. It recently launched 4G services in Kolkata and Karnataka.

Qualcomm bid in the auction in 2010 stating that its purpose was to promote the LTE standard in the country. In line with Indian rules limiting foreign investment in telecom operators to 74 percent of the equity, it said it would form a joint venture with Indian partners to set up an LTE network, and will later exit the venture.

The local partners, Tulip Telecom, and Global Holding Corporation, that Qualcomm initially tied with for the broadband joint ventures, are divesting their 26 percent stake in favor of Bharti Airtel.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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