Phoenix Tower becomes a major player in the European towerco landscape
The addition of deals in Italy, Malta and Cyprus positions PTI as a name to watch in the dynamic European market
Founded just under a decade ago, Phoenix Tower has established itself as one of the most important players in the Central and Latin American tower markets. In 2020, the towerco made its first inroads into Europe announcing deals in France and Ireland. Since then, PTI has signed deals that will add three further markets to its European footprint, namely Italy, Malta and Cyprus. Ahead of this year’s TowerXchange Meetup Europe, TowerXchange speaks to PTI’s CEO Dagan Kasavana and Executive Chairman, Tim Culver to learn more about the towerco’s European ambitions.
TowerXchange: Phoenix Tower has built a portfolio of over 10,000 towers across 19 markets, is the fourth largest towerco in CALA and has the backing of a major investor in Blackstone, yet is a comparably new name in the European tower space. Can you share with us a bit of PTI’s history and what has contributed to your successful growth story?
Dagan Kasavana, CEO, Phoenix Tower International: Sure! I founded PTI on October 2, 2013 with a goal of building a tower company focused on helping our business partners achieve their goals by collaborating with them in a high integrity manner and operating our tower assets in a best-in-class manner.
It was a simple premise but one that I truly believe has led to significant growth over the years as our business partners enjoy doing business with us and want to do more business with us. Of course, this is paired with having well capitalised investors including our majority and founding shareholder the Blackstone Group and minority shareholder John Hancock Life Insurance, both of whom have supported the Company’s growth every year and allowed myself and Tim to take this business from a start-up concept to a global leader in seven short years.
As we look at Europe, we believe that demonstrating this same level of collaboration and hard work will endear us to our customers. Additionally, being a multi-national company with a broad mandate allows us to act creatively on their behalf to help them in multiple geographies, across multiple transaction types and ultimately to be a strategic partner to their growth.
TowerXchange: Europe is a very attractive tower market from an M&A perspective at present, with most operators reviewing or executing tower strategies. When it comes to the competitive landscape, Cellnex has been highly acquisitive, American Tower has just ramped up its European presence, and new operator-owned towercos such as Vantage Towers and Orange’s TOTEM have hinted at an appetite for M&A. In the face of such opportunities and yet such competition, what do you see as PTI’s niche?
Tim Culver, Executive Chairman, Phoenix Tower International: Candidly, all the above names are public companies or carrier carve outs. PTI is a privately held, entrepreneurial tower company with a broad mandate and a flexible approach with its customers which is how we differentiated ourselves across the Americas over the last seven years. As a result, we completed more transactions than any other tower company and amassed 12,000 towers in a very short period of time.
We are focused on our customers and these incredibly important transactions for their businesses. When you look at the growth we have seen so far with our joint venture with Bouygues, our transaction with NJJ, subsidiary eir in Ireland (and subsequent transaction with NJJ subsidiary Monaco Telecom in Malta and Cyprus) as well as our transaction with EI Towers and F2i in Italy, it’s a continuation of the same strategy we have taken across the Americas where we demonstrated a flexible approach to the transaction, complete focus from the senior management team at PTI and completion by the team under a short timeframe to deliver maximum value to the customer.
This vision and mission are the result of 15 years’ experience deploying U$6bn of capital across the world in transactions involving towers and is something that continues to differentiate us from other companies.
TowerXchange: At the end of last year, PTI announced the acquisition of Towertel in Italy. What are your ambitions for PTI in the country which already has a very strong towerco presence?
Tim Culver, Executive Chairman, Phoenix Tower International: We only like to pursue transactions where PTI can have a differentiated growth strategy. In Italy, we saw the opportunity to be a true independent tower company.
Cellnex and Inwit – the two largest towercos in Italy – have achieved strong market positions by partnering with certain carriers in market.
PTI had the ability to acquire a tower platform, TowerTel, from EI Towers and all the MNOs were already doing business with them based on their unique site locations and neutral position in the market. Additionally, FWA and other users are searching for a company that could work closely with them on their build-out needs. We want to build from this success to continue to lease the towers we are acquiring and develop new sites, DAS and other solutions across the country as a true independent provider. We are excited about the business plan.
TowerXchange: In March, PTI then reached a deal with Monaco Telecom to acquire sites in Malta and Cyprus. Malta and Cyprus are not markets that TowerXchange has followed in any details, can you tell us a little about the dynamics in both and what attracted you to the deal?
Dagan Kasavana, CEO, Phoenix Tower International: The first thing that attracted us was the ability to partner with Monaco Telecom and NJJ in markets that weren’t served by third party tower companies and where we can establish our brand and presence with a scale position. Additionally, both are Euro based markets and multi-carrier markets.
Having at minimum three strong MNOs and strong currency are very important as we look to new geographies. While these are some of the smaller markets in Europe, they also have build-out needs like other European markets and we believe that the towers we have invested in will see strong lease-up in the future.
Lastly, with our presence in Italy and our successes in the Caribbean operating towers (and other markets where we were the first independent tower company like Jamaica, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic) we would be able to staff a strong local team and complement them with our back-office of systems and personnel remotely to ensure an efficient staffing structure.
We look forward to working not only with Monaco Telecom and NJJ but also with the other operators in these two markets to show them how PTI does business and establish more partnerships with them in both markets. We are quite grateful for the opportunity to partner further with NJJ and Monaco Telecom.
TowerXchange: Do you see many other attractive virgin towerco markets across Europe? Are there any regions/ markets in the continent that you would not consider? What are you looking for in a market?
Dagan Kasavana, CEO, Phoenix Tower International: I don’t want to get too detailed in my response but we do see other markets across Europe being underpenetrated. I believe that by investing in strong currencies with multiple MNOs spending on their network in stable markets, there is the ability to demonstrate the independent tower model and drive returns for shareholders. We also know from the Americas that the market will reward us if we stay focused on the customers’ needs. So, we will stay focused on finding these types of similar opportunities as well as larger markets where we feel we have a unique business plan and edge versus other players in the market.
TowerXchange: We spoke last year about PTI’s deals in Ireland and France, how has business progressed in the two countries? What are some of your operational priorities at present?
Tim Culver, Executive Chairman, Phoenix Tower International: The business has progressed really well in both markets. In Ireland, we are seeing other opportunities to grow through M&A and the development of new towers and DAS systems as well.
Our team has been fully built and we just signed our office lease for when we can return there. We are working with all the customers in country and are quite happy with how the business is doing. In France, we have closings monthly to acquire more newly constructed towers and are continuing to scale the business there as well as the people. In both markets we have started to lease-up the towers and see more opportunities to grow, so we are quite satisfied.
Our operational priorities include continuing to focus on lease-up and development opportunities and we are also acquiring land under our towers whenever possible and ensuring we have top notch personnel in both markets ready to serve our customers.
TowerXchange: How do you find the dynamics in Europe compare to those in CALA for PTI?
Tim Culver, Executive Chairman, Phoenix Tower International: I think there are many similarities but also of course many differences too. There are more well capitalised wireless operators across Europe that are looking to possibly sell towers so the activity is currently more robust in Europe than CALA.
Similarly, you run into more financial sponsors looking at opportunities in Europe than you do in CALA. However, the tower model has many similarities and while RANsharing is a bit more prevalent in Europe than in Latin America, the counterparties in Europe are accustomed to signing long term contracts which provides a level of comfort. It is fun to partner with different wireless operators and build something much larger over time so the opportunity to work on multiple opportunities across multiple countries which fuels further opportunities is one similarity both markets provide to PTI and one of many reasons we are excited to be operating in Europe and believe we have seen early success with our approach.
TowerXchange: Is there an appetite to explore opportunities in any other continents?
Dagan Kasavana, CEO, Phoenix Tower International: Always! If markets meet PTI’s investment standards than PTI has the ability to review opportunities and ultimately expand there. We are one of the few global tower players in the world and we will continue to leverage this unique platform to expand and grow across existing as well as new continents on behalf of our business partners.