Hutchison Telecom is close to buying a 49 per cent stake in Indian cellular-phone operator Usha Martin Telekom (UMT) in a move that will extend its footprint in the country to Calcutta, according to a source close to the company. Hutchison, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa, would pay US$145 million in cash to Telekom Malaysia and Mauritius-based Telecommunications Investment, the source said. Telekom Malaysia owns a 37.7 per cent shareholding in Calcutta-based UMT, while Telecommunications Investment owns a 11.3 per cent stake. The Jhawars family, which founded the company, owns the remainder of UMT. Based on UMT's customer base of 45,000 in Calcutta, Hutchison would be paying about US$3,400 per UMT subscriber, India's Economic Times reported. According to a memorandum of understanding between Hutchison and UMT, a final agreement would be signed after completion of due-diligence, the daily said. Acquisition of UMT would bolster Hutchison's mobile-telephone subscribers in India to more than 300,000. Last December, Hutchison teamed up with India's Essar Group to purchase a 49 per cent stake in Sterling Cellular from Swisscom. Sterling Cellular, one of two mobile-telephone operators in New Delhi, had 120,000 subscribers at the time of the acquisition. Hutchison has yet to disclose the terms of this investment, but the stake is believed to have cost the company US$138 million. Hutchison entered India's cellular-telephone market in 1995, when the company won a mobile licence to operate in Bombay via a joint venture with India's Max Group, Hutchison Max. The company increased its stake in Hutchison Max to 49 per cent from 29 per cent in 1998. Hutchison Max had 145,000 subscribers at the end of last year. Analysts said one of Hutchison's strategies was to dispose of telecoms assets in mature markets and reinvest the proceeds in less-developed mobile markets in the region, particularly India and the mainland. Hutchison would be interested in buying more than 90 per cent of UMT if India lifted its 49 per cent ceiling on foreign ownership of companies in the telecoms sector, according to reports.