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

18 Apr 2017

Florida-based Phoenix Tower International (PTI), which owns and operates more than 1,400 towers and other wireless infrastructure and related sites throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and the US, has purchased ownership or management rights to 202 tower sites from Digicel El Salvador. PTI acquired the sites via its local subsidiary, but further details of the transaction have been kept confidential. Commenting on the deal, PTI CEO Dagan Kasavana described the acquisition as a ‘logical expansion of PTI’s operations’ as: ‘we are already a leading infrastructure provider for the major carriers operating in El Salvador in other markets we do business in, [and] this transaction will allow us to continue to support their needs in a new market, furthering our relationships.’

Indian towerco GTL Infrastructure is preparing for sale, India Infoline writes, noting that the company is expected to go for around INR100 billion (USD1.5 billion). The sale process is due to start once it completes its merger with its subsidiary Chennai Network Infrastructure Limited (CNIL). According to the Economic Times, CNIL is the ‘most valuable piece of GTL Infra’s network’ but the unit cannot be sold separately as its merger with GTL was a pre-condition of a debt restructuring agreement in 2011. The operator began a strategic debt restructuring (SDR) programme late last year, through which the company’s lenders will convert INR45 billion of the firm’s debt into equity.

In Malaysian Borneo, the Sarawak government has announced plans to invest MYR1 billion (USD227 million) in ICT development in the state, primarily focusing on increasing the number of mobile towers in the state from 1,200 to more than 5,000, Free Malaysia Today reports. The move has faced criticism from opposition politicians, however, as the contract for the work will be passed to SACOFA – the only firm authorised to construct or license mobile tower sites in the state – without tender. According to the plan’s detractors, awarding the SACOFA the rollout contract without a competitive process will result in higher costs, and less control over the outcome.

Staying with Malaysia, the nation’s Retirement Fund Incorporated (KWAP) has agreed to purchase a USD100 million stake in Axiata’s mobile tower division edotco, which operates wireless infrastructure throughout Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia and Myanmar, Reuters reports. The stake sale is in addition to USD600 million raised through a private equity placement, through which Innovation Network Corp of Japan (INCJ) and sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad will take stakes of USD400 million and USD200 million, respectively. Once the transaction has been completed the three shareholders will own a combined 37.6% of edotco, whilst Axiata will retain the remaining 62.4%, the group noted.

India’s mobile service providers and infrastructure operators will need to install 100,000 new towers annually to meet rising demand for mobile data and to provide blanket coverage of advanced services such as 4G, 5G, and Internet of Things (IoT), the Economic Times cites lobby group the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) as saying. The group issued the statement amidst a resurgence in health concerns surrounding mobile towers following a Supreme Court order to close a mobile tower in Gwalior after a local man alleged that radiation from the site had caused his cancer. Looking to assure the public, COAI director Rajan Matthews pointed out that, not only had numerous studies shown that mobile towers are safe, but India’s rules for tower sites are much more stringent than elsewhere in the world, with ‘the radiation standards … at one tenth of the generally accepted global standards.’

Meanwhile, Indian wireless infrastructure lobby group Towers and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA) is calling for tax holidays, low-cost grid power and fuel subsidies via the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) to help the industry reduce its dependence on diesel fuel as part of the government’s ‘Go Green’ initiative. The Economic Times quotes the body’s director general, Tilak Raj Dua as saying that towercos have rolled out 90,000 diesel-free mobile sites so far, or around 20% of the total number of operational towers in the country.

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