* American Tower, Axiata, private equity could eye stake
* Viom says exploring IPO on NYSE or LSE
* Sources say firm could raise $350 mln
* Indian telecom tower firms recovering after 2012 setback
(Adds details on stake sale, banks' names, company valuation,
By Sumeet Chatterjee and Devidutta Tripathy
April 28 Viom Networks Ltd, an Indian phone
tower operator majority owned by the Tata Group, is looking to
raise funds either through a stake sale or an overseas listing
that could raise up to $350 million, sources with direct
knowledge of the matter said.
Malaysia's Axiata Group Bhd, U.S.-headquartered
tower operator American Tower Corp, which operates in
India, and a couple of private equity firms are among the
possible bidders for the Viom stake, four sources said.
Tata Teleservices Ltd, India's No.7 mobile phone
carrier by users, owns about 54 percent of Viom, which operates
more than 40,000 mobile phone masts. Indian infrastructure
financier SREI Group holds about 18 percent.
Four private equity investors including Singapore sovereign
wealth fund GIC and Oman Investment Fund own the rest
of the company.
The sources said talks are at a preliminary stage and Viom
is yet to decide which route to take for fund raising. A deal,
either to sell a stake or list shares in an overseas market, was
at least five to six months away, said two of the sources.
A mismatch in valuation expectations of the seller and the
potential bidders may derail the stake sale process, they said.
Viom is exploring an overseas initial public offering either
on the New York Stock Exchange or the London Stock Exchange, a
company spokesman said. He did not say how much Viom was looking
to raise and if it was mulling bringing in an equity partner.
"While, we don't comment on speculation, we can confirm that
Viom Networks and its shareholders have engaged international
financial advisers to explore options for raising growth
capital," the Viom spokesman said in a statement.
The sources declined to be named as they were not authorised
to speak to the media ahead of a public announcement. An Axiata
spokeswoman declined to comment, while American Tower and Tata
Teleservices did not respond to requests for comment.
Tower companies in India get their revenue from leasing out
mobile phone masts to carriers. A 2012 court order to revoke
several carriers' permits following a licensing scandal hurt
tower companies including Viom.
But growth is returning as established carriers expand their
3G and 4G networks. Viom recently landed a deal to lease towers
to conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd's yet-to-be
launched 4G venture. The Indian unit of Norway's Telenor ASA
is one of Viom's biggest customers.
As part of the stake sale terms, both Tata Teleservices, a
unit of India's steel-to-software conglomerate Tata Group, and
SREI Group are likely to divest some of their shares in Viom,
the sources said.
"If the process goes through, the successful bidder will be
the single largest shareholder in the company," a source said.
No decision has been taken on how much the two main founders of
the company will own after the stake divestment, he said.
The Viom spokesman said its advisers had valued the company
between 220 billion rupees ($3.63 billion) and 270 billion
rupees ($4.45 billion), including debt, and that it would decide
on the route to raise capital by end-September.
Viom, which had hired a clutch of investment banks in 2010
for an Indian market listing but later put off plans due to
subdued investor appetite, has less than 65 billion rupees of
debt, the spokesman said.
If Viom is able to list shares in an overseas bourse soon,
it could become the first Indian company to take that route
after the government last year allowed firms to list and raise
capital overseas without first being listed on local exchanges.
Citigroup Inc and Credit Suisse Group AG are
advising Viom for the stake sale process, the sources said. A
spokesman for Citigroup in Mumbai and a spokeswoman for Credit
Suisse in Hong Kong declined to comment.
The company has engaged London-based STJ Advisors, a capital
market advisory firm, for exploring the possibility of an IPO,
Viom said in the statement. It is likely to hire a few Wall
Street banks for this process as well, the sources said.
($1 = 60.6550 Indian Rupees)
(Additional reporting by Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur;
Editing by Mark Potter)