The Indian head of Vodafone Mobile Services Limited Business Rajat Avasthi speaks during the launch of Vodafone's SuperNet 4G service in Amritsar on Feb. 22, 2017. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — British telecom company Vodafone's Indian unit has announced a merger with Idea Cellular, a local company, creating the country's largest telecom operator with nearly 400 million customers.

A joint statement from the companies Mar. 20 said Vodafone will own 45.1 percent of the combined company and Idea will have a 26 percent stake, while the rest will be owned by public shareholders after the merger, which is expected to be completed next year.

At present, Bharti Airtel is India's biggest telecom player. The entry of Reliance Jio has led to a consolidation in the Indian telecom sector.

The merger values Vodafone India at 828 billion rupees ($12.4 billion) and Idea at 722 billion rupees ($10.8 billion), the statement said.

Idea Cellular is owned by India's Aditya Birla Group.

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