Infratel considering expansion on subcontinent

16 Jun 2014

Indian-backed infrastructure company Bharti Infratel is considering purchasing towers in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India with a view to capitalising on telcos’ needs to expand their networks to meet growing demand for data, the Economic Times writes. The tower company is mulling purchasing sites owned by its parent company Bharti Airtel in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well as those of the likes of Idea Cellular and Vodafone in India. Infratel’s chairman Akhil Gupta told the paper that the operator will look at expanding its footprint in the ‘Indian subcontinent – Bangladesh and Sri Lanka’ but clarified that ‘both Airtel and Infratel boards will have to be satisfied that it is a fair transaction.’ The two markets are seen to have substantial potential for growth, and towers there are valued ‘significantly lower’ than those in India as rental fees are also much lower. In India, meanwhile, Gupta noted that: ‘consolidation for us would be, for instance, a Vodafone which has got towers in our seven circles, or an Idea. We’ll look at it if there is a possibility [of a sale].’ The official ruled out the acquisition of other independent tower companies in India, claiming that the potential targets for such takeovers typically look for financial investors, going against Infratel’s intention of gaining full control.

Gupta, who is also vice chairman of Bharti Enterprises the majority stakeholder in Bharti Airtel, went on to explain that Infratel has no interest in taking over Airtel’s towers in Africa: ‘As a matter of philosophy we [Airtel] believe that an operator does not need to own towers. That’s why we [will] be divesting them to specialised tower companies to make sure that they maintain standards, uptime and operations and management.’ The official remained tight-lipped about the specifics of the Africa tower sale, except to say that Airtel’s 15,000 towers will be split between several companies.

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