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

4 Apr 2017

India’s largest mobile provider by subscribers Bharti Airtel, has sold a 10.3% stake in its tower division Bharti Infratel, to a consortium comprising Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) for a total consideration of INR62 billion (USD954 million). Airtel will use the proceeds of the sale to reduce its debt, the company said in a filing to the stock exchange. In a connected development, the Economic Times writes that Bharti Infratel is eyeing Vodafone India’s 42% stake in Indus Towers – the joint venture tower firm established by Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular. Vodafone’s has kept its stake in Indus separate from the merger of its wireless operations with Idea Cellular, with the Group’s CEO, Vittorio Colao, noting that the three partners – i.e. Vodafone, Airtel and Idea – would need to work together to determine the ‘destination of their stakes’. According to the paper, KKR and CPPIB had previously offered to take up to a 51% stake in Infratel, but the news of Vodafone and Idea’s merger led to a sharp drop in the towerco’s stock, ending the prospective deal. Airtel’s interest in taking full control of Indus is part of the group’s strategy to offload a significant stake and managing control of Infratel, an unnamed official was cited as saying on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, American Tower Corporation (ATC) and Brookfield Asset Management are vying for the independently-held mobile tower assets of Vodafone and Idea, with the combined portfolios worth an estimated INR100 billion. LiveMint quotes people familiar with the matter as saying that the two mobile operators are running separate sale processes, but the assets may be sold to a single buyer for better returns. A week before the report, Idea had said in a notice to the stock exchange that it was not considering a proposal to demerge its tower portfolio and sell a majority stake to ATC.

Staying with India, anti-trust watchdog the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has greenlit the sale of wireless provider Reliance Communications’ (RCOM’s) mobile tower division Reliance Infratel to Brookfield. RCOM agreed to sell the business to Brookfield in December last year for INR110 billion. The cellco will use the proceeds of the all-cash deal to reduce its debt.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Axiata Group Berhad, which has a minority stake in Idea Cellular, is reportedly considering entering India’s mobile mast market. The Economic Times writes that the group has entered into discussions with several service providers regarding potential acquisitions. In addition to its interest in Idea, Axiata already has a substantial presence in the region’s infrastructure business, through its edotco division, which operates tower firms in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well as Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia.

At least seven foreign groups have expressed an interest in acquiring British telecom and broadcast tower firm Arqiva, the Telegraph cites City sources as saying. The operator is expected to fetch in the region of GBP6 billion (USD7.5 billion) when the formal sale process begins in the next few weeks, with several companies having already started preliminary discussions with the existing shareholders, Macquarie and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). The list of known interested parties currently includes Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings (CKI), the holding company of Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and 4M Investments, Germany’s Allianz, plus an unnamed firm led by a ‘telecoms veteran’. Finally, French infrastructure firm TDF Group, has also reportedly expressed an interest in acquiring Arqiva.

Telkom South Africa is considering plans to spin off its telecom tower and real estate assets into a separate company, which could then be listed on the stock market, local news outlet Tech Central writes, citing two people familiar with the matter. The new firm would be run by a property-focused management team tasked with generating additional revenue for the partly state-owned operator. The move forms part of CEO Sipho Maseko’s turnaround strategy, with the official hoping to capitalise on the company’s substantial real estate portfolio.

China Tower, the infrastructure joint venture established by the nation’s trio of mobile network operators, is aiming to list on the Hong Kong bourse by the end 2017, or in H1 2018 if it falls short of the initial target. The company has no timetable for listing on China’s Shanghai or Shenzhen stock exchanges, however, Mobile World Live cites chairman Liu Aili as saying. According to the official, the company has invested CNY95 billion (USD13.8 billion) on the deployment of some 1.14 million towers since its establishment in late 2015, boosting tower sharing rates from 20% to 40% by end-2016, with the sharing rate for new towers reaching between 70% and 90%, depending on the region. Despite this success, China Tower’s debt has soared to CNY150 billion, casting doubt on its chances of achieving its target of turning profitable by the end of 2017.

Newcomer to Slovakia’s wireless market SWAN Mobile, which operates under the 4ka brand has reportedly entered negotiations with local infrastructure provider Towercom to lease access to its towers, Zive writes. A spokesperson for Towercom told the paper that the deal has not yet been signed, and details of the contract, such as the number of towers covered, were still under negotiation.

Finally, Malaysian-owned infrastructure provider edotco has installed what it claims is Bangladesh’s first bamboo telecom tower. Developed in collaboration with the Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET), the bamboo tower has less of an impact on the environment than steel towers, being renewable, sustainable and using less energy to manufacture. In its press release, edotco notes that research and development – headed by BUET – found that bamboo towers could support the weight of the equipment, withstand winds of up to 210kmph, and have a lifespan of around ten years. Further, as bamboo is much lighter than steel, it can be transported more easily and be installed on rooftops without placing additional stress on the structure. Although so far only a single rooftop tower has been installed, in Dhaka, edotco intends to roll out more across other areas of Dhaka as a proof of concept in 2017, before trialling the solution in its other markets.

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