French telecom group Orange has said that is in exclusive negotiations to purchase four African subsidiaries from India's biggest mobile company, Bharti Airtel.
"Orange and Airtel have entered into an exclusive agreement to explore the possible acquisition by Orange of Airtel's subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, and Sierra Leone," the French group said in a statement on Monday.
Orange noted that there is "no certainty of any binding agreement as a result of these discussions" currently under way with the Indian company's Netherlands-based affiliate, Bharti Airtel International.
The negotiations come as Orange president Stephane Richard pursues his drive to ramp up the company's development in Africa -- an effort that previously raised the possibility of the French group acquiring Bharti Airtel's African units last February.
At the end of 2014, Orange had 97.5 million clients in Africa and the Middle East, a regional customer base that the company is looking to increase rapidly.
According to consultancy Deloitte, the number of smartphones in use in Africa is expected to double by 2017, fuelled primarily by increasing sales of low-cost handsets.
At Mobile World Congress (MWC) earlier this year, Orange and Mozilla announced a $40 handset running Firefox OS that comes with a bundled data package aimed at African users.
"Although the smartphone revolution is well under way across the African continent, there remains a proportion of the population that so far has been underserved, not just because of the cost of handsets, but because of concerns about data costs," Yves Maitre, Orange's executive vice president of connected objects and partnerships, said.
"By scooping up all the costs into one incredibly priced digital offer, we hope that critical access to the mobile internet and all the opportunities that that opens up will be within reach of many more people."
Orange has been particularly active on the acquisition front in recent times. In September last year, Orange picked up Spanish telecoms provider Jazztel in a deal worth up to €3.4 billion.
On the other side of the ledger, Orange agreed to part with 80 percent of its ownership of French YouTube rival Dailymotion for €217 million in April, and, along with Deutsche Telekom in February, entered into a deal to sell EE for £12.5 billion.
Active in 29 countries with 247 million clients, Orange is a major global telecoms player -- generating €39 billion in sales last year, and employing 155,000 people worldwide.