Bharti founder hopes to be third time lucky with Africa bid

NEW DELHI, February 17, 2010 (AFP) – Indian telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal is hoping to make it third time lucky as he seeks to gain a presence in Africa, one of the world’s least developed mobile phone markets. After two failed attempts to tie up with South African flagship MTN, the founder-chairman of cellular giant Bharti Airtel announced this week a 10.7-billion-dollar bid to buy the African unit of Kuwait’s Zain telecom group.

The takeover would be one of India’s biggest cross-border deals and give Bharti a significant foothold in the continent’s cellular market where just 36 out of every 100 people own a mobile phone.

That compares with Europe and other developed markets where there are more mobile phones than people, while in India mobile use stands at about 44 connections per 100 people.

“Africa is under-penetrated, it has less competition (than the Indian market). It is a step in the right direction” for Bharti, said Romal Shetty, senior telecom analyst at international consultancy KPMG.

Bharti, India’s largest mobile firm which is 32-percent owned by Singapore Telecom, and Zain, Kuwait’s biggest phone company, said Monday they had agreed to hold exclusive talks until March 25 t