Norway's Telenor ASA (TEL.OS) said Thursday it is planning to end its joint venture with Indian real-estate developer Unitech Ltd. (507878.BY) before the South Asian nation starts the process of auctioning mobile-phone frequencies.
The company is already in discussions with "a handful of" firms to finalize a new partner, Sigve Brekke, executive vice president at Telenor, told reporters at a news conference.
Brekke is also managing director at the India venture, Unitech Wireless Ltd.
Telenor owns 67% of Unitech Wireless, while Unitech holds the remaining. Both companies are embroiled in a legal dispute over control of the joint venture. Unitech has approached the Company Law Board, a quasi-judicial body, to resolve the dispute.
The dispute between Unitech and Telenor boiled over after India's Supreme Court on Feb. 2 ordered the scrapping of 122 mobile-phone licenses--including 22 belonging to Unitech Wireless--issued without auction in January 2008, saying the allocations were rigged and underpriced.
Telenor wants the property developer to exit the joint venture and says it isn't responsible for the alleged irregularities because it entered India only after the licenses were allotted.
Unitech Wireless offers mobile-phone services under the Uninor brand and has about 40 million customers. The company is facing the risk of closing down its operations unless it gets bandwidth reallocated.
The court has also ordered the government to conduct the bandwidth auction by Aug. 31 and has allowed the operators that are set to lose their permits to continue providing services until Sept. 7.
-By R. Jai Krishna, Dow Jones Newswires; +91-9886929464; firstname.lastname@example.org