Meetup Asia Wrapped
Highlights from the discussions at the only meeting place for the Asian tower industry
To round off an incredibly busy year for the Asian tower market, TowerXchange was delighted to welcome hundreds of decision makers from across the passive telecom infrastructure ecosystem to our annual Meetup earlier in December.
Despite being held online rather than in person in Singapore, there was a big focus on peer-2-peer dialogue, with 13 interactive roundtables and three exclusive towerco hosted Q&As across the week. Supplementing these interactive sessions were a whole host of panel discussions, keynote presentations, interviews and even a Dragon’s Den session that highlighted some of the amazing innovators who attended the event.
During the conversations we learnt a lot about the challenges towercos are facing, their priorities in terms of new technologies and processes that they want to adopt heading into 2022 and some of the biggest opportunities that they see on the horizon. We’ll be summarizing all of the conversations soon in a full post-event report – but in advance of that here are some of the key themes that emerged across the event:
Towercos are expanding their scope and reach in Asia
Unlike other regions, the Asian towerco market has always been unique in the number of single-country towercos that operate. Even if we were to look back to December 2020, the only Pan-Asian towerco of note would have been edotco who are active in eight countries across Asia, where they acquired towers from parent company Axiata.
At the Meetup we learnt about edotco’s plans to expand into their next two markets – Thailand and Indonesia, through a combination of organic and inorganic growth.
Since then though, EdgePoint Infrastructure has emerged to establish a presence in Indonesia and Malaysia, and have bold ambitions to increase their country count by strategically moving into new markets. Despite their bread and butter being towers, we learnt that EdgePoint’s ambitions were to support their operator clients with a full spectrum of Digital Infrastructure services.
American Tower have historically been limited to their Indian operation of around 75,673 towers (as per their Q321 results) but in 2021 they built their first towers in Bangladesh and the Philippines, as well as establishing a ground lease acquisition business in Australia through their subsidiary Lease Advisors. This shows no sign of slowing down, with ATC disclosing plans to move into several new countries across Asia – both with and without an existing towerco presence.
Digital transformation has continued to progress across Asia, which is creating a significant increase in data consumption quantity and importance to society. As such a review of digital infrastructure’s robustness is being undertaken, with towercos ready to take the plunge in terms of being able to offer ancillary services from DAS, Fibre for backhaul and for access layers, small cells, street furniture for private networks and smart cities, ORAN and edge computing.
The M&A landscape shows no sign of slowing down!
The Pan-Asian expansion of leading towercos in the region is being driven by their individual growth ambitions, but is only possible due to the ambitions of operators to unlock the value in their passive infrastructure, and raise capital to continue to roll out their networks. Doing so efficiently is becoming more and more challenging due to the scale at which infrastructure needs to develop to meet the surging demand across the region.
It is expected that M&A activity on the operator side will continue in some markets, while others seem to have reached their status quo. India for example, has entered a relative period of calm towards the end of 2021 with the three private and one nationally owned operator working with half a dozen major towercos.
Mergers in Malaysia and Indonesia could point to what similar markets have in store as MNOs lay out their 5G plans. Operators in both countries pointed towards lowering the cost of 4G densification and network expansion plans for their motivation behind joining efforts.
There is also an expectation that towerco/towerco acquisitions and mergers will continue to be a space to watch in 2022, especially in countries such as the Philippines and Myanmar, where lots of smaller towercos have established a modest portfolio, but the growth opportunities lend themselves towards outfits that can serve operators on mass.
Sustainability is front of mind for everyone
Unsurprisingly, sustainability was a key theme across the event. From an energy perspective, the roadmap to renewables was discussed, with an acknowledgement that towercos still have a long way to go before their reliance on diesel gensets is less substantial. If anything, with power demands set to skyrocket under 5G rollout, renewable solutions need to become more reliable and maintain longer up-times than ever before.
While solar continues to be the dominant renewable power source, the viability of fuel-cells was also discussed at length at this year’s meetup. While the lack of polluting by-products, noisy engines or a dependance on weather conditions were all major selling points, accessing a reliable supply chain for the fuel itself was identified as a challenge that needed to be solved in the near future.
Beyond power, the way that towercos are thinking about designing and building their towers has also pivoted across Asia. Some of this has been driven through sustainability targets, but have also unlocked economic benefits as well. For example while struggling with surging steel prices, and looking to more sustainable materials, we heard about new tower designs using bamboo.
Towerco’s are also thinking about reducing maintenance and waste through “right-sizing” their infrastructure and predicting future loading. Maintaining strong relationships and communication with clients is key to getting ahead of the game here, alongside more technical solutions such as data utilisation to predict network expansion and requirements.
Digitising workflows is essential to stay competitive
Across the board, towercos are investing in digitisation throughout their businesses. The ability to track key metrics on site and collect useful data that can automate operational processes will become increasingly important as operators are installing yet more antennae onto their towers.
More ambitious towercos are looking to take this a step further and use the access to this data as an opportunity to digitise the way their tenants interact with their equipment and provide the opportunity to model additional or new equipment to a site.
AI and Machine Learning is also being employed to model power demand on sites, identify malfunctions or inefficiencies, and predict energy consumption so that equipment can be applied correctly. Unlocking these competitive advantages, and managing sites more effectively will become expected of towercos over time, so strong advice was given to look for opportunities to start investing now.
In terms of finding opportunities to invest in data-driven solutions, towercos with experience of successful digitisation projects suggested starting small, by looking for existing processes that could be streamlined or automated, before taking a big leap to entirely overhaul a core business practice. This will help create quick wins that can build buy-in from staff and show an ROI to justify larger projects.
Elsewhere across the event, there were discussions that deep-dived into regulation, the use case for small cells, network expansion into rural areas, urban densification, private networks, site security and many more topics that are front of mind for the Asian towerco ecosystem. TowerXchange will bring you a full round up of the discussions at the event early next year – get in touch with Jack Haddon, Head of Research – APAC at TowerXchange (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have a story from the event you would like to share!