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

19 Jul 2017

US-based Phoenix International has completed three separate transactions across Colombia and Peru, adding more than 150 towers to its portfolio and increased its marketable real estate properties by over 2,000 across the two nations. In a press release, the company said the transactions: ‘have furthered our scale in both markets with quality sites poised for growth as well as real estate partnerships with majority property owners that we can collocate new customers on or construct new tower towers on.’

Staying with Latin America, Mexican fixed-wireless broadband and telephony provider Axtel has signed an agreement to sell 142 telecom towers to MATC Digital, the local subsidiary of US-based infrastructure group American Tower Corporation (ATC), for USD56 million. Axtel has also committed to lease the sites for 15 years. In a statement to the Mexican bourse, Axtel MD Rolando Zubiran Shetler noted that the sites were ‘non-strategic assets’ and their sale would improve the company’s capital structure. The deal is expected to be concluded by the end of this year.

Zain Saudi Arabia is close to finalising a deal to sell its roughly 7,500 mobile towers to Lebanon’s TASC Towers, Bloomberg cites people familiar with the matter as saying. The sale is expected to generate up to USD500 million for the Kuwaiti-backed provider, according to the sources, which added that TASC has approached banks to finance the acquisition. The cellco began mulling offloading its tower assets back in January 2015, but progress towards selling the infrastructure has been slow. The operator reportedly began talks with TASC Towers and another potential buyer in December 2016 regarding a potential deal but has yet to sign a binding agreement for the sale.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has finalised guidelines for the nation’s tower infrastructure industry and submitted its plans to the government for approval, the Daily Star reports. The news portal cites a senior BTRC official as saying that the regulator is planning to allocate three licences to manage mobile tower infrastructure, though cellcos will not be eligible to apply for a licence, and companies that hold shares in a wireless provider would have to dispose of those shares before being granted a tower concession. The new licences will be valid for 15 years and costs BDT500 million (USD6.1 million) up front, plus BDT50 million per year. Foreign companies will be allowed to hold up to a 60% stake in a tower management firm. At present, Malaysian-backed edotco operates in the nation’s nascent independent tower market via a no-objection certificate, managing a portfolio of around 9,000 towers. The company is 20% owned by cellco Robi Axiata, but under the new rules the wireless provider would need to sell the stake in edotco should the latter win a licence.

Indian telecoms giant Bharti Airtel is reportedly considering selling a controlling stake in its tower arm, Bharti Infratel, to reduce debt and release funds for network expansion, the Economic Times cites people familiar with the matter as saying. The change of approach was prompted in part by a 26% surge in Infratel’s share price since April this year, when Airtel sold a 10.3% stake in the company 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), one of the sources claimed.

Elsewhere in India, 19 potential investors have reportedly expressed an interest in taking over GTL Infrastructure as the company seeks new owners as part of its structured debt reconstruction (SDR) process. The Economic Times writes that would-be buyers include Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), Carlyle and Goldman Sachs. The operator initiated the SDR programme, through which creditors are able to convert loans into shares in the borrowing company, last September, successfully reducing its debt from INR86.6 billion to INR41.9 billion. The company is looking to sell a 51% stake by the end of March 2018. In a related development, antitrust watchdog the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has approved the merger of GTL Infrastructure with its subsidiary Chennai Network Infrastructure Limited (CNIL). The amalgamation forms part of GTL’s debt restructuring efforts.

Finally, Bengalaru municipal authority the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has threatened to shut down thousands of mobile sites, claiming that, of the more than 10,000 towers within its jurisdiction, permission fees had been paid for fewer than 200. The authority has given cellcos until the end of July to pay the fees – which range from INR10,000 to INR50,000, depending on the location of the site – to regularise their tower sites. The New Indian Express quotes a BBMP official as saying: ‘After the 15-day deadline, if the towers are not regularised, they will be removed. We are not responsible for any signal problems later.’

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