India's Bharti Airtel to Enter Telecom's Top Five

India’s Bharti Airtel will become the fifth-largest telecom provider in the world by purchasing 15 African markets from Zain in deal valued at $10.7 billion, according to Wireless Intelligence. Combining the 15 new markets with the three that Bharti held prior, the purchase will give it just under 170 million subscribers out of a potential customer population of 450 million in all 18 areas. Unless a regulatory issue holds up the deal, the newly acquired markets will include: Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

As I review the largest mobile providers in the world, I’m reminded that I need to spend more time looking beyond my backyard in the U.S. It would take the combined subscriber counts of the two largest carriers here — Verizon’s (s vz) 91 million and AT&T’s (s t) 85 million — to rival Bharti’s new size. Perhaps Nokia’s (s nok) focus on emerging markets isn’t such a bad strategy after all. This worldwide approach is rubbing off on others as Dell (s dell) just announced a deal with Telfonica Group in Latin America, the world’s No. 3 three mobile provider, to provide services and smartphones such as its Android-powered (s goog) Aero handset. Now if we could only get the carriers to work out better international roaming agreements so that no one ever gets another $10,000 monthly bill, we’d be in business.

Here’s a look at where Airtel will fit in among the top mobile providers in the world:

Worldwide Mobile Telecom Rankings
Rank Provider Total Connections Markets
1 China Mobile 525,331,266 2
2 Vodafone Group 309,580,257 23
3 Telefonica Group 202,333,430 20
4 America Movil Group 186,544,900 17
5 Airtel Group 169,468,523 18
6 China Unicom 147,587,000 1
7 Deutsche Telekom Group 127,919,986 12
8 Telenor Group 101,367,838 10

Table Source: Wireless Intelligence