By Kenan Machado

Vodafone Group PLC (VOD.LN) has reached a deal to merge most of its Indian operations with the country's third-largest mobile operator, Idea Cellular Ltd. (532822.BY).

The planned combination would create India's largest wireless-network operator with almost 400 million customers and bolster Vodafone's position in one of the world's fastest-growing telecom markets. In India, rising costs and fierce competition have weighed on the finances of industry players.

Idea's market value has been around $6 billion following a 50% stock surge this yearon merger speculation. Vodafone will initially own 45% of Idea after the merger. The companies plan to save about $2 billion annually by the fourth year after the merger.

Vodafone's 42% stake in Indus Towers isn't part of the deal.

Competition in India's wireless market ratcheted up last year after the introduction of free mobile calling through an entity created by India's richest man, Mukesh Ambani. After months of the no-cost service, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. recently started charging customers for plans starting as little as $2.30 a month for unlimited calls and texts with 4G data.

Idea's stock was up 3.7% in morning trade on Monday.

Write to Kenan Machado at kenan.machado@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 20, 2017 01:06 ET (05:06 GMT)

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