Orange in talks with Airtel, may gain largest African footprint

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Orange Telecoms would emerge the largest mobile operator in Africa if discussions it has started with India’s Airtel yield an acquisition agreement.

The companies said Monday that they are exploring the possible acquisition by Orange of Airtels subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville and Sierra Leone; if that comes to pass, Orange will have the biggest geographical footprint of any mobile operator on the continent.

Airtel offers 2G, 3G services and Airtel Money across 17 African countries while Orange is present in 16. An acquisition would give Orange a better position in West Africa, particularly in French-speaking countries, where it has a strong footing.

A deal for the Airtel subsidiaries would also increase Orange Groups total customer base of 247 million customers worldwide, which as of the end of March included 188 million mobile customers and 16 million fixed broadband customers. Airtel is the third largest mobile operator in the world in terms of subscribers, behind China Mobile and Vodafone Group, according to data published by the World Cellular Information Service last month that showed Airtel with over 303 million mobile subscribers across its operations.

Airtel has not commented on its reason for considering divesting the African subsidiaries. Last year, Orange was reportedly considering an exit from the east African telecom market because of anticipated stiff competition from Kenya’s Safaricom and Bharti Airtel.

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