October 25, 2019 / 5:10 PM / 22 days ago

India's Reliance to create $15 billion digital unit to pare telecom debt

FILE PHOTO - A woman walks past the logos of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group during the company's annual general meeting in Mumbai, India, September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Prashant Waydande

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s Reliance Industries Ltd on Friday said it would invest nearly $15 billion to create a digital services company as it seeks to cut debt at its telecom venture, potentially making way for the entry of a strategic investor.

Controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, Reliance’s debt burden has risen significantly since its telecoms unit Jio Infocomm entered India’s crowded mobile market in late 2016 offering free voice calls and cut-price data to build a massive consumer base.

The price war unleashed by Jio forced rivals to consolidate, driving companies such as Reliance Communications, controlled by Ambani’s younger brother, and Aircel out of business.

Reliance Industries will have rights to convert its 1.08 trillion rupee ($15.26 billion) investment in the new digital company into equity, the oil-to-retail conglomerate said in a statement.

The new unit will, in turn, invest the funds in Jio, making the telecoms venture almost net debt free by the end of March 2020.

The new digital services company - which also includes Jio’s news, movie and music apps - will also acquire Reliance’s equity investment of 650 billion rupees in Jio.

“Given the reach and scale of our digital ecosystem, we have received strong interest from potential strategic partners,” Reliance Chairman Ambani said in the statement.

“We will induct the right partners in our platform company, creating and unlocking meaningful value for RIL shareholders.”

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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