Vodafone Idea and Elon Musk’s Starlink Not in Tie-Up Talks, Telecom Firm Clarifies

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India’s Vodafone Idea is not in talks to tie up with billionaire Elon Musk’s satellite internet company Starlink, the telecom operator said on Tuesday, dashing hopes of a revival in the debt-ridden company that had sent its stock soaring.

The clarification came after Vodafone Ideas’ stock surged in the past two sessions on what business magazine BusinessWorld said were “markets betting” that Musk was looking to buy a stake in the company to help Starlink enter India.

“We would like to submit that the company is not in any such discussion with the named party. We are not aware of the basis of the said news item,” Vodafone Idea said in a statement on Tuesday, a day after the Bombay Stock Exchange, where its stock is listed, asked for a clarification on the report.

The BusinessWorld report was published on Friday after Vodafone Idea’s shares surged 21 percent. The stock jumped another 6 percent on Monday, rounding out its busiest sessions in about two years.

However, the stock fell more than 5 percent in heavy trading on Tuesday after the company’s clarification.

Starlink, Musk and SpaceX — Musk’s rocket company that owns Starlink — did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Vodafone Idea has not reported a profit since it was formed in 2018 — through the merger of UK-based Vodafone’s Indian unit with Aditya Birla Group’s Idea Cellular — as it loses subscribers to Bharti Airtel and Reliance Industries’ Jio.

Moreover, the Indian government owns roughly a third of Vodafone Idea after it converted into equity all the dues the company owed for using airwaves and spectrum.

Vodafone Idea’s financial woes make it an unattractive partner, said Karan Taurani, an analyst with Elara Capital.

“On one end it is struggling to raise more cash and on the other end they have a large debt to service,” Taurani said.

While Vodafone Idea does not have a satellite company, Bharti-backed OneWeb and Reliance’s Jio Satellite Communications have regulatory clearance to operate in India.

UK-based Vodafone has partnered with Starlink’s rival, Amazon.com’s Kuiper for internet networks in Europe and Africa. Kuiper does not operate in India.

© Thomson Reuters 2023


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