Vodafone joins other carriers in race for Hutch Essar stake

The world's largest mobile phone company, Vodafone Group, is set to enter a bidding war to buy Indian mobile firm Hutchison Essar, a newspaper article, quoted by an AFP report, said.

The AFP report said the Economic Times newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, reported that the firm was holding talks with bankers to raise cash to buy the majority stake in Hutchison Essar owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison.

However Vodafone's Indian partner Bharti Airtel told the Business Standard it was not aware of any move, the AFP report said.

Hutchison Essar is India's third largest mobile phone company with around 27 million subscribers.

Local media reports have said the Hutchison Whampoa stake and a minority stake held by the joint venture partner, India's Ruia family, which controls the Essar Group of companies, could fetch as much as $14 billion if sold together.

Earlier reports said that India's Reliance Communications and Malaysia's Maxis Communications were also in the fray.

India is one of the world's fastest growing markets for mobile phone handsets and services with more than 100 million subscribers.