Google and Microsoft reportedly considering stakes in telecom firms in India after Facebook deal

Weeks after Facebook acquired a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms, two more American firms are reportedly interested in the Indian telecom market.

Google is considering buying a stake of about 5% in Vodafone Idea, the second largest telecom operator in India, according to Financial Times. Separately, Microsoft is in talks to invest up to $2 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms, Indian newspaper Mint reported Friday.

According to Financial Times, Google has also held talks with Reliance Jio Platforms, a three-and-a-half-old telecom operator that has raised $10.3 billion in the last couple of weeks from Facebook and U.S. privacy equity firms Silver Lake, KKR, General Atlantic, and Vista.

Buzz about Microsoft’s interest in Reliance Jio Platforms, the top telecom operator in India with more than 388 million subscribers, has been swirling in the market for more than a month, though both the companies have declined to comment. A spokesperson of Google declined to comment today.

India has emerged as the one of the latest global battlegrounds for American and Chinese firms that are looking for their next billion users. About half a billion Indians came online in the last decade, with just as many still living offline.

In the last decade, Facebook and Google have launched connectivity efforts in India to bring more people online. While Facebook maintains one such effort, called Express Wi-Fi, in India, Google discontinued a project that allowed millions of Indians to access mobile internet for free at more than 400 railway stations earlier this year.

Both the companies have traditionally struggled to make much money from these users in India, the world’s second largest internet market with more than 600 million users.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said last month that the company would work with Jio Platforms to help small merchants and businesses come online. The two companies have already kick-started their collaboration.

Already struggling to improve their profits because of Jio’s aggressive expansion, Vodafone Idea and nation’s third largest telecom operator Airtel are also scrambling to pay India billions of dollars that they owe to the government because of a decade old case.

Executives at Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between UK-headquartered Vodafone and India’s Aditya Birla Group, said earlier this year that they may have to shut the telecom operator if the government did not provide them some relief.

The American giants have formed multiple partnerships with telecom operators in the key overseas market over the years to expand their reach in the nation. Microsoft has a partnership with Reliance Jio to bring Office 365 to millions of small businesses at subsidized cost. Google maintains a similar partnership with Airtel for its Google Cloud suite.

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