Tower Talk: a guide to the latest major cell site developments

21 Mar 2017

Under the terms of the merger of India’s second and third largest mobile providers Vodafone India and Idea Cellular, announced earlier this week, the two operators are expected to dispose of their tower assets. Prior to the completion of the amalgamation of the two cellcos, both parties will sell their standalone tower assets, whilst Idea will also sell its 11.15% stake in Indus Towers. For its part, meanwhile, Vodafone’s 42.0% stake in Indus was not included in the merger, but the British-owned provider will nevertheless explore options for the shares, including a partial or full disposal. Earlier this month – before the merger had been confirmed – Idea Cellular had refuted reports from local business news outlet CNBC TV-18 that American Tower Corporation (ATC) was close to buying out its tower assets, stating that there was no proposal for a demerger of its tower business. The report claimed that ATC’s management was in India this month to finalise transaction details, and that Idea would provide assurance of tenancy to ATC as part of any deal.

Staying with India, the country’s largest mobile provider by subscribers Bharti Airtel has shelved plans to sell a controlling interest in its tower division, Bharti Infratel, and has instead chosen to monetise a 21.63% stake in the company, the Hindu writes. To that end, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bharti Airtel, Nettle Infrastructure Investments will purchase around 400 million equity shares in Infratel for approximately INR124 billion (USD1.90 billion) on or after 27 March. Nettle will purchase the stake ‘at or around the market price prevailing on the date of acquisition’ Infratel stated in a stock exchange filing.

Saudi wireless providers Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) have issued a request for proposal to a number of investment banks and other organisations, looking for a joint advisor to assist with the process of merging their respective tower operations, Reuters writes, citing industry sources. As part of efforts to reduce costs, the pair are considering whether to offload their tower infrastructure to a third party or to combine the two portfolios under a single management company, with the latter option currently understood to be the preferred option.

Zain Kuwait is in the final stages of selling its mobile towers in the country, Reuters cites the company’s vice chairman, Bader Nasser al-Kharafi as saying. The deal is currently awaiting approval from the telecommunications regulator, the official added, but did not give any further details of the transaction.

Moscow-based Russian Towers, which claims to be the nation’s largest independent tower provider, has taken over rival infrastructure operator Sektor for an undisclosed sum. Sektor owns and operates telecom towers in the Moscow, Kirov and Tver regions, hosting equipment from Russia’s ‘Big Four’ cellcos – Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), MegaFon, VimpelCom Russia (Beeline) and Tele2 Russia – on its sites. Its portfolio of towers has an average tenancy ratio of 1.5. Commenting on the acquisition, Russian Towers President Alexander Chub said: ‘We continue to realise our programme for regional development and in the future, we plan to increase our influence in regions of Russia, expanding our territorial reach, as well as the density of our site distribution.’

US-based Digital Bridge has announced that it has secured commitments to invest USD150 million in Andean Tower Partners (ATP), its infrastructure arm in Colombia and Peru, from three new partners, adding to the USD80 million that ISA Group agreed to invest earlier this month. The three new investors are the Olayan Group, Equity International – Sam Zell’s investment firm focused on emerging markets – and TC Latin America Partners, a private equity firm focused on real estate investments in Colombia, Peru and Mexico. In a press release, Digital Bridge noted that the Andean region needs ‘significant investment in telecommunications infrastructure to meet the needs associated with significant mobile data demand growth.’

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