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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 10:03 GMT
Vodafone confirms Indian ambition
Man using mobile phone by poster showing Hindu god with modern technology equipment
India's mobile market is growing fast as consumer spending rises
Vodafone has said it is considering a bid for a majority stake in Hutchison Whampoa's Indian mobile phone business.

The mobile phone giant is widely expected to offer as much as $13.5bn (6.9bn) for Hutchison Essar but it warned a deal might not materialise.

The move would be consistent with its strategy of expanding in fast-moving markets to offset slow European growth.

Vodafone is set to face competition from other potential suitors including India's Reliance Communications.

Vodafone's shares fell 1% in early London trading amid concerns that it would have to overpay to acquire the prized asset.

Hong-Kong based Hutchison Telecommunications revealed on Friday that several parties had contacted it about acquiring its 67% stake in Hutchison Essar - India's fourth-largest mobile phone operator.

Vodafone continues to believe the mobile market in India has great potential

Vodafone already owns 10% of Bharti Airtel, the market leader in India, but is keen to build a more substantial presence in the world's fastest growing telecoms market.

Foreign firms are limited to owning 74% of Indian mobile phone providers.

Vodafone said it was considering whether the deal met its criteria, both in terms of how much it would have to pay and its strategic implications.

"Vodafone continues to believe the mobile market in India has great potential and is therefore considering the acquisition of a controlling interest in Hutchison Essar," it said.

"Such a consideration would be consistent with its stated strategy of seeking selective acquisition opportunities in developing markets."

Other contenders

Vodafone currently has interests in emerging markets including Egypt, Romania and India - and underlined its ambitions for further expansion in similar markets at an investor meeting earlier this month.

It is focusing on countries with major growth potential after exiting more mature markets such as Japan, Belgium and Switzerland over the past year.

Essar Group, a conglomerate whose interests include construction and shipping as well as telecoms, has first refusal on buying the 67% stake, should Hutchison sell.

Indian media reports have suggested that Malaysian telecoms firm Maxis and Egypt's Orascom Telecom are also interested in investing in Hutchison Essar.

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