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

8 Aug 2017

Spain-based infrastructure provider Cellnex has expanded its agreement with French cellco Bouygues Telecom and will purchase an extra 600 sites from the operator for around EUR170 million (USD201 million). The operator also confirmed that it has acquired the remaining 10% it did not own in Italian tower firm Galata from Wind Telecom. The acquisition was triggered by Wind exercising its option to sell the outstanding 10% stake it retained after Cellnex Italia purchased 90% of Galata’s shares in March 2015. The value of the transaction was not disclosed. Cellnex booked a total turnover of EUR379 million for the first six months of 2017, up from EUR338 million in the corresponding period of 2016. EBITDA rose from EUR134 million in H1 2016 to EUR168 million, although a steep rise in financing costs led to a decline in net profit to EUR19 million from EUR24 million. In operational terms, Cellnex counted 25,803 PoPs at end-June 2017 compared to 21,155 twelve months earlier, whilst its tenancy ratio inched up from 1.56 to 1.64 over the same period.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, a Cellnex-led consortium including Swiss Life Asset Managers and Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners, has completed the acquisition of Swiss Towers, the recently-created tower infrastructure division of full service provider Sunrise, for a consideration of CHF500 million (USD514 million). Swiss Towers’ portfolio comprises some 2,239 tower sites across the country. In conjunction with the sale, Sunrise also entered into service agreements based on which Sunrise will provide certain transitional services to Swiss Towers, as well as a build-to-suit agreement, under which Sunrise is subcontracted to build new telecom towers.

Tigo Colombia, a subsidiary of Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular (MIC), has agreed to sell approximately 1,200 towers in Colombia to American Tower Corporation (ATC) for approximately COP448 billion (USD151 million) in cash. Under the agreement, Tigo will continue to lease the towers from ATC. The specific number of towers and final purchasing price are to be determined once the deal has received regulatory approval and customary closing conditions have taken place. Meanwhile, ATC registered a 15.3% year-on-year increase in gross revenue for its Q2 2017 to USD1.64 billion. With only a small increase in expenses, the operator’s net income for the quarter more than doubled to USD388.5 million from USD192.5 million in Q2 2016.

ATC is also linked to a potential acquisition in India, and is reportedly vying with Brookfield Infrastructure Partners and IDFC Project Equity Infra for the towers held by Vodafone India. The Economic Times cites two people familiar with the matter as saying that the trio have separately entered bids for the cellco’s roughly 11,000 tower sites, valued at approximately USD600 million. The infrastructure is being sold off prior to Vodafone India’s planned merger with Idea Cellular and the sale will not include Vodafone’s 42% stake in Indus Towers.

Staying with India, Bharti Airtel’s tower infrastructure division Bharti Infratel, reported a 9.8% y-o-y increase in revenue to INR35.2 billion (USD551 million) for the three months to end-June 2017. EBITDA for the period was INR15.8 billion, up from INR14.1 billion a year earlier, with an EBITDA margin of 44.7% (43.9% at end-June 2016). Despite the growth, a substantial increase in tax expenses led to a 12.2% drop in net profit to INR6.6 billion. Excluding its 42% interest in Indus Towers, at the end of June 2017 the company counted a total of 39,211 towers and 93,297 co-locations, up from 38,642 and 81,908 respectively in mid-2016. Its average tenancy ratio was 2.33, compared to 2.12 in June 2016. Airtel sold a roughly 3.65% stake in Infratel this week for INR25.7 billion through a secondary share sale, offloading 67.53 million shares at a price of INR380.6 per share. The sale reduced Airtel’s stake in the subsidiary to 58% and the proceeds will be used to reduce the group’s debt burden.

US-based tower firm Crown Castle has announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire LTS Group Holdings (Lightower) from Berkshire Partners, Pamlico Capital and other investors for approximately USD7.1 billion in cash (subject to certain limited adjustments). Crown Castle anticipates closing the transaction by the end of 2017. Lightower owns – or has rights to – approximately 32,000 route miles of fibre located primarily in top metropolitan markets in the North-east, including Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Following completion of the transaction, Crown Castle will own or have rights to approximately 60,000 route miles of fibre – effectively doubling its current footprint.

Saudi Telecom Company’s (STC’s) CEO Khalid Biyari has confirmed that the planned merger of its tower operations with those of Mobily (Etihad Etisalat) is ‘on track’. Argaam writes that the duo have completed studies for the merger and have agreed on a financial adviser for the process. Nevertheless, the official stressed that the merger would take time due to the very complex nature of the process.

Also in Saudi Arabia, Zain Saudi Arabia has entered into exclusive negotiations with IHS Holding and Towershare Management regarding a sale and leaseback agreement for the operator’s tower infrastructure. The exclusivity period lasts until 28 September 2017.

British broadcasting and telecommunication tower infrastructure provider Arqiva has hired four banks for its initial public offering (IPO), Reuters cites a source familiar with the matter as saying. According to the source, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and JP Morgan have been selected for the listing.

Finally, Malaysian-owned infrastructure group edotco, through its edotco Pakistan division, has completed its acquisition of Pakistani tower provider Tanzanite Tower Private Limited (TTPL) for a total consideration of USD88.9 million. TTPL was previously owned by HB Offshore Investments via wireless broadband provider Wi-Tribe.

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