(Repeats to additional clients; no change to text)
By Devidutta Tripathy
NEW DELHI Nov 29 Norway's Telenor ASA
is focusing on breaking even by the end of 2013 in the six
Indian telecommunication zones where it recently won back
airwaves, its chief executive said, playing down talks of a deal
with a rival in the world's second-biggest mobile phone market.
Jon Fredrik Baksaas said in New Delhi the company will focus
its resources on its total investment goal of 155 billion Indian
rupees ($2.8 billion) on the six zones where it will operate
after its all-India permits were revoked because they were
awarded in an earlier corruption-tainted auction.
"There are many questions that need to be addressed from us
in the years to come," Baksaas said, when asked if the company
would be looking to expand its footprint to other zones through
mergers and acquisitions.
"But for now our concentration and focus is clear. Six
circles, basic services and break-even for 2013," Baksaas said.
India is divided into 22 telecommunication zones.
A source with direct knowledge said earlier this week that
Telenor was in talks to merge its Indian operations with Tata
Teleservices to gain a bigger foothold in the Indian
market. Baksaas said on Thursday he would not
comment on "speculation."
Telenor, which has more than 150 million customers in Europe
and Asia, will be left with about 30 million customers in India
after scaling back its operations, it said in a statement
earlier on Thursday.
Baksaas said the company, which said its northern zone of
Uttar Pradesh East had broken even, aims to achieve break-even
on an operating and cashflow basis in all its Indian zones by
the end of 2013.
"It's better to stay profitable in a more concentrated
geography than to look at the potential loss-making of a longer
business case and an extended business case in a bigger
geography," he said.
Telenor, which agreed to enter India in 2008 by taking a
majority stake in a nascent mobile phone operator, has struggled
to make money in the crowded, highly-competitive market and had
threatened to abandon India after the licence cancellation
order, which the company said "unfairly harmed" it.
Telenor is moving its Indian business, which currently
operates under the Uninor brand, into a new entity after it
split from its former partner, Indian real estate firm Unitech
Ltd. Telenor announced a new Indian partner last
($1 = 55.5250 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Matt Driskill)