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

29 Nov 2016

Idea Cellular, India’s third largest mobile provider by subscribers, is planning to sell 100% of its tower arm, switching tack from its previous plan to offload a minority stake in the company, CNBC-TV18 reports, citing sources close to the development. Idea is looking to sell its 11,000 towers for around USD1 billion and has entered talks with American Tower Corporation (ATC), Bharti Infratel and Brookfield Infrastructure Partners.

Indian telecoms group Reliance Communications (RCOM), meanwhile, has incorporated a new subsidiary, Towercom Infrastructure Private Ltd (TIPL) with a subscribed and paid-up capital of INR100,000 (USD1,466). The creation of the new company is understood to be part of RCOM’s planned sale of a 51% stake in its infrastructure arm Reliance Infratel to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. The two parties signed a non-binding agreement last month, under which the tower assets of Reliance Infratel would be transferred to a new special purpose vehicle (SPV) that would be majority owned by Brookfield.

In a related development, Brookfield is also reportedly interested in acquiring a 40% stake in Bharti Infratel, the wireless infrastructure division of India’s largest mobile provider by subscribers, Bharti Airtel. Also weighing in is asset management firm Blackstone Group, according to the Economic Times, which writes that the company is teaming up with a consortium comprising Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CCPIB) and private equity fund KKR & Co. Airtel approved the sale of a significant stake in Infratel, which is currently 72%-owned by the provider, last month, though no further details were published.

Staying with India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued a notice bringing The Indian Telegraph Right of Way Rules, 2016 into effect as of 15 November 2016. The rules provide a standardised process for providers to acquire approval for the installation of tower and fibre infrastructure. The right of way (RoW) rules streamline the application procedure and are expected to increase investment in infrastructure in India by removing many of the barriers and complications currently hamstringing the process. Differing rules and costs across various areas has long bogged down network rollouts, whilst ungrounded fears over radiation from cell sites has led authorities to strongly resist their construction in residential areas.

South African cellco Vodacom and Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), the parent company of ISP iBurst, have signed an agreement under which WBS will use Vodacom’s high sites. TechCentral writes that the WBS is expected to have 500 sites active on Vodacom facilities by March 2017, with that number set to reach 5,000 by 2020.

Telecom tower firm Arqiva, which operates more than 8,000 sites across the UK, is planning a GBP5 billion (USD6.24 billion) sale, abandoning its previous intention to list on the London Stock Exchange, Sky News reports. The proposed sale would not get under way for several months, however, whilst the eventual transaction is not expected to be completed until 2018.

Communications Sales & Leasing (CS&L), a US-based real estate investment trust engaged in the acquisition and construction of mission critical communications infrastructure, has entered into an agreement to acquire Latin American tower management company Network Management Holdings (NMS). NMS owns and operates 359 mobile towers across Latin America, with a further 114 build-to-suit sites currently under development. At present, its portfolio covers Mexico (313 towers), Nicaragua (55) and Colombia (105). Once completed, the full 473 site portfolio will generate annual revenues of approximately USD7.9 million. The initial consideration for the 359 towers already in operation is expected to total around USD65 million, though the agreement will also see CS&L acquire the remaining 114 sites once they are completed. The transaction is expected to be completed in Q1 2017.

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