UPDATE 1-India's Bharti Airtel to sell 3,100 telecoms towers in Africa

Wed Jul 9, 2014 7:38am EDT

(Adds details on Bharti's plans in Africa)

MUMBAI, July 9 (Reuters) - India's top mobile phone carrier Bharti Airtel Ltd said it will sell about 3,100 telecoms towers in four African countries to Helios Towers Africa, in keeping with its plans to sell most of its transmitter towers in Africa in a process that could raise up to $2 billion.

Helios Towers, founded by George Soros-backed Helios Investment Partners, claims to have the largest number of telecoms towers held by an independent company focused exclusively on Africa.

The sale of Bharti Airtel's towers will expand Helios's tower coverage in Africa to over 7,800, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Bharti Airtel's African business has been a drag on the company, which has to yet to turn a profit there four years after spending $9 billion to acquire money-losing mobile phone assets. The Indian company will have full access to the towers under a long-term lease contract, the company said.

With the deal, aimed at driving cost efficiencies, tower operations-related personnel will be transferred from Airtel to Helios, Bharti Airtel said.

Bharti entered Africa in 2010 with the $9 billion acquisition of Kuwaiti telecoms group Zain's operations on the continent.

Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal, who heads the company, said in May Africa represents one-third of Bharti's business. (Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Aman Shah in Mumbai; Editing by Sunil Nair)