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

4 Jul 2017

Indian cellcos Vodafone India and Idea Cellular have given formal mandates to investment banks Morgan Stanley and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch to finalise buyers for their respective standalone tower businesses, ahead of the planned merger of the wireless providers, the Economic Times cites two people familiar with the matter as saying. The two operators, which own roughly 11,000 and 9,900 towers respectively, are keen to complete the sale of their tower assets before their merger, which is expected to close in mid-2018. Both parties have previously held talks with potential buyers, American Tower Corporation (ATC) and Brookfield Infrastructure Partners. Vodafone has also reportedly asked Morgan Stanley to find a potential buyer for its 42% stake in Indus Towers – a joint venture between Vodafone, Idea and Bharti Airtel – which Vodafone has kept outside of its tie-up with Idea. A third source cited by the paper noted that valuations for the tower sites are likely to be major obstacle for the cellcos, as the infrastructure is expected to drop sharply in value post-merger. Around 100,000 towers – including those under the Indus Towers umbrella – are anticipated to overlap after the merger and many of these sites were not designed with sharing in mind. As such, any buyer would need to invest in refurbishing them to enable sharing, the unnamed source said.

Staying with India, American Tower Corporation (ATC) is said to be in the advanced stages of acquiring Tata Teleservices’ (TTSL’s) outstanding 32% stake in Viom Networks, in a deal that is expected to be worth around INR40 billion (USD616 million). CNBC-TV18 reports that Tata Group is now looking to completely exit the company, having previously sold a 22% stake to ATC in 2015 as part of a deal which saw the US-based firm acquire a controlling 51% interest in the infrastructure provider.

In another Indian development, the planned sale of wireless provider Reliance Communications’ (RCOM’s) tower infrastructure arm Reliance Infratel (RITL) has reportedly been green-lit by the latter’s minority shareholders, which own around 4.26% of the provider. Under the INR110 billion deal, RITL’s tower assets will be spun into a new company, Tower Infrastructure Private Limited (TIPL), which will be wholly owned by Canada’s Brookfield Infrastructure Partners.

Finally, Malaysian-owned infrastructure group edotco, through its edotco Pakistan division, has signed an agreement with Pakistani tower operator Tower Share to acquire 100% of the latter’s subsidiary Tanzanite Tower Private Limited (TTPL) for a total consideration of USD90 million. TTPL’s tower portfolio comprises some 700 towers – 97% of which are in urban areas, whilst the remaining 3% are situated in rural areas – serving all of the nation’s major mobile providers. Commenting on the move, edotco CEO Suresh Sidhu said that the acquisition ‘demonstrates our continued confidence in the Pakistan market and long-term commitment to support the development and enhancement of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.’

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