Monthly news round-up: March 2022
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Monthly news round-up: March 2022

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A round-up off all the latest news in the global tower industry

Europe

Regional: Investors approach Vodafone re majority stake in Vantage Towers

Vodafone has reportedly received unsolicited bids from a number of investment funds looking to secure a majority stake in Vantage Towers. The offers value Vantage Towers at a premium to its current €15mn valuation, with bidders mentioned including Brookfield and Global Infrastructure Partners. Vodafone CEO, Nick Reed had recently hinted on an investor call that a merger with the likes of Deutsche Telekom’s GD Towers or Orange’s TOTEM would be the next logical move for Vantage Towers stating, “The next stage (for Vantage) should be an industrial merger, bringing our towers with another large player, a like-minded player, a like-minded operator." Reed did not however rule out relinquishing some of its 80% stake in Vantage adding that there was "plenty of room for us to monetise down while staying in co-control of that entity with that like-minded player." Vodafone is under pressure from activist investor, Cevian Capital to improve shareholder returns. 

Belgium: DigitalBridge to acquire Telenet’s tower portfolio

DigitalBridge has reached a deal to acquire the tower portfolio of Belgian MNO, Telenet for €745mn or $820mn in cash, on a cash-free and debt-free basis. The tower portfolio includes 2,158 owned sites and 1,164 third party sites with a total tenancy ratio of 1.2x. The agreement also includes a built-to-suit component with DigitalBridge to deploy at least 475 sites for the operator. With the deal, DigitalBridge become the first independent towerco in Belgium. 

France: Cellnex agrees the sale of 3,200 sites to Phoenix Tower International

As per the French Competition Authority’s conditions regarding Cellnex’ acquisition of Hivory, Cellnex has reached a deal to dispose of 3,200 sites in very dense areas in the country. Phoenix Tower International will acquire 1,226 sites, whilst Phoenix Tower, in conjunction with its JV partner, Bouygues Telecom will acquire 2,000 sites. With these transactions, alongside PTI’s BTS programme with Bouygues Telecom, Phoenix Tower will own 5,000 sites in the French market.  

France: French government introduces new measures to stimulate industrial 5G

The French government has introduced new measures designed to support the development of industrial 5G projects. The measures include streamlining access to 2.6GHz spectrum, whilst also exploring the potential use of 3.8GHz and 4GHz spectrum bands. Additionally, there has been a call for joint 5G private network projects by France and Germany, with industrial players invited to express their interest by early April.   

Germany, Austria: Deutsche Telekom kicks off sale proceedings for GD Towers

Deutsche Telekom has kicked off proceedings for the sale of its towerco business, GD Towers. The business unit brings together Deutsche Telekom’s German towerco, Deutsche Funkturm (which was established in 2002 as has 33,600 towers) and Austrian towerco, Magenta T-Infra (which was formed in the past 12 months and has a portfolio of 7,000 sites). Details for the stake up for sale have not been revealed, but a number of interested parties have been linked to the deal, namely Cellnex, American Tower, Vantage Towers, TOTEM and several funds. Deutsche Telekom has previously stated that it would prefer to retain a stake in the towerco whilst deconsolidating the asset from its balance sheet. Source suggest that a sale could value GD Towers at close to €18bn. 

Italy: TIM receives offer from Ardian-led consortium for its stake in INWIT

Italian MNO, TIM has received an offer from investor Ardian for its shareholding in Daphne 3. Daphne 3 which owns a 30.2% in INWIT is currently 51% owned by TIM, with Ardian owning the remaining 49% stake. The Ardian-led consortium has made a binding offer to purchase the majority of TIM’s shareholding capital of Daphne 3. TIM would still retain a 3% indirect stake in the towerco along with certain governance rights. Vodafone’s Vantage Towers owns a 33.2% stake in INWIT, with a 3% stake in the towerco held by Canson Capital Partners, and the remaining free float.  

Italy: WindTre and Iliad consider forming new JV infraco unit to rollout rural 5G

WindTre and Iliad have proposed the formation of a new joint venture to rollout 5G in rural areas. News reports suggest that WindTre would transfer 7,000 rural towers to a new business unit, with Iliad securing a 50% stake in the venture.  

Spain: Orange and MASMOVIL enter exclusive negotiation period over merger

Orange and MASMOVIL have confirmed that they have entered a period of exclusive negotiations regarding the merger of their Spanish operations. The two operators are aiming to form a 50/50 joint venture, with a deal expected to be signed in the next quarter.  

Americas

Brazil – IHS closes 2115 tower deal with Grupo TorreSur

IHS Towers boosted their tower count in Brazil to 6,745 following the close of its acquisition of SP5 – a Grupo TorreSur portfolio company. The deal was worth US$ 315 million. The sale leaves Grupo TorreSur with 2,800 towers in Brazil, and bumps IHS Towers up to become the third largest independent towerco in the country, following American Tower (22,924) and SBA Communications (9,955). America Movil have also carved out their 12,539 towers into Sitios Latinoamerica.  

Brazil – Satellite backhaul gains momentum

TIM have reached a major milestone in its ambitious satellite backhaul program, reaching 1,000 sites with partner Gilat. TIM are using Gilat’s SkyEdge 11-c backhaul platform on 4G sites.  

Chile – Entel 5G rollout reaches 45% of target and announce plans to sell fiber network

After it started rolling out 5G at the end of last year, Entel’s network has reached 67 communes across nine of Chiles regions. Entel plans to spend US$ 230 million over the course of the next two years, by which time it will have achieved nationwide coverage, if all goes to plan. In other news, the operator announced that it had recruited BNP Paribas to oversee a sale of its fibre-optic network, which was valued between $US 300 million and 500 million. Expressions of interest have been received and are currently under review. 

Chile and Peru – Entel sell off four data centres for $US 736 million

US based Equinix has purchased four data centres from Entel – three in Chile (valued at $US662 million) and one in Peru (valued at $US 74million). The deal is expected to close before H2 22. Entel have signed an agreement with Equinix to jointly address the Chilean market and retain access to the data centres. TowerXchange estimates that Entel have approximately 800 towers in Peru and 600 in Chile, after selling the majority of their portfolio to American Tower in 2019. Whether or not the remaining towers will also hit the market soon alongside the fibre and data centre businesses remains to be seen.  

Mexico – Altan Redes granted an extra four years to reach nationwide coverage

Initially formed in November 2016, Mexico’s wholesale 4G network was required to meet 92.2% of the population by January 2024. However, 2021 turned out to be a turbulent year, as the company fell wildly behind target and then filed for bankruptcy. The coverage has currently reached 69.58% of the population, but furhter rollout has completely stopped amid financial difficulty. The target of 92.2% must now be met by January 28th, with an interim target set for the end of November this year, by which time coverage must reach 70%.  

Regional – TowerXchange Meetup Americas agenda is now live!

With a renewed focus on topics beyond towers to align with expanding towerco priorities, an innovation showcase “Shark Tank” session, four invite only focus groups and dedicated roundtable tracks for different departments, TowerXchange Meetup Americas 2022 is shaping up to be the region’s best event yet. Check out the agenda and if you are interested in speaking on any of these topics contact Jack Haddon – jack.haddon@towerXchange.com 

Africa

Regional: Intelsat invests in Kenya, Mali and Congo-B to support LTE expansion

Safaricom has signed a multi-year deal with Intelsat to modernist its network and expand LTW coverage. Intelsat is providing cellular and satellite backhaul to the market leader. In Mali Intelsat has siged a deal with Orange to provide the first satellite-enabled LTE connectivity in Francophone west Africa. In the less-developed Mali Intelsat is also providing backhaul services to support 3G. In Congo B Intelsat is working with Vodacom to provide satellite backhaul as part of Vodacom’s Rural Communication Solution initiative: RCS looks to combine available transport networks and hybrid power solutions. 

Regional: MTN inks MOU with Rakuten Symphony to trial Open RAN

Rakuten Symphony will be carrying out live 4G and 5G Open RAN PoCs in South Africa, Nigeria and Liberia in 2022. The cloud orchestrated, Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP) and automation of radio site commissioning and network integration will reduce the time to market and cost of new 4G and 5G sites. 

Angola: Infrastructure sharing issue in Angola holds back Africell

Africell Angola’s launch will delayed to sometime in April after failing to agree terms for site sharing with market leader Unitel. This will require additional capex on towers by Africell rather than being able to share sites with Unitel, reports newspaper Expansao. As is often the case where sharing is supported by regulation the incumbent MNO argued sharing was ‘technically and physically unfeasible’ on its sites.  

Ethiopia: Ethiotel privatisation on hold

Due to the ongoing conflict in the north of Ethiopia the privatisation of Ethio Telecom has been indefinitely delayed. The chaos in the country is also hampering Safaricom’s launch plans and cooling towerco appetite to enter the market until the disorder is contained.  

Ivory Coast: 5G expect to launch next year

Ivory Coast’s government said it expected the country’s first 5G networks to go live next year, according to Ecofin. MTN began trials of 5G equipment in December, with testing expanded to nine sites in Abidjan earlier this month. The west African country would like 5G to go live before next year’s Africa Cup of Nations but will have to agree timelines to release spectrum first.  

Malawi: Helios Towers closes Airtel deal

Helios Towers has closed the acquisition of Airtel’s 723 sites in Malawi. The total paid for the towers is US%55mn of which 20% is funded by Old Mutual Infrastructure Investment Trust Fund, representing a local Malawian shareholding of 20%, in-line with the local telecommunications infrastructure licence requirements. The transaction adds an eighth market to Helios’ active portfolio and takes their total site count to 10,283. 

Nigeria: 5G Spectum winners announced

5G took an important step forward in Africa’s largest mobile market at the end of February. The NCC announced that MTN NIgeria and Mafab Communications have paid US$273.6mn for their 5G licenses. MTN paid an additional US$15.9mn for its preffered 3500-3600MHz spectrum band. Mafab walked away with 37000-3800MHz. Airtel Nigeria walked away without any new spectrum but announced in March that all of its sites in Nigeria were now offering 4G connectivity.  

South Africa: Spectrum shortage appears over at last

South Africa’s communications regulator ICASA has completed the auction of high-demand spectrum, raising R14.4bn (US$967mn). Vodacom and MTN were the biggest spenders in the auction with Telkom,, Cell C, Liquid and Rain also won some spectrum. The auction remains the subject of a legal challenge by Telkom, which could force the results to be torn up, but overall operators are optimistic about moving forward. The spectrum will improve services by relieving chronic capacity constraints and enable the roll-out of 5G.  

Tanzania: Huawei offering rural solutions to TTCL

State-backed TTCL has announced a deal with Huawei for the deployment of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fixed wireless 4G services, and new fixed and mobile networks in rural locations, reports The Citizen. The fourth ranked mobile operator needs to expand its network and win new customers and the partnership with Huawei will enable that. Previously TTCL has worked with Open RAN vendor Fairwaves on rural site rollouts.  

Asia

Japan – Open for business! JTower buys 6,002 towers from NTT Docomo

A landscaping shifting tower deal has broken in Japan with Japan’s Infra-sharing incumbent JTower. A press release claimed that the agreement between the two companies will work to encourage infrastructure sharing on NTT’s towers, following a transaction that valued the assets at just under US$855. JTower initially set up shop in Japan in 2012, but despite its name has focused primarily on IBS. In July 2021 they bought 71 towers from NTT West.  

Indonesia – edotco enter market with XL Axiata acquisition

Axiata’s carve out towerco has bold ambitions to significantly grow its tower assets in the next few years, and has made a step in the right direction by entering the ever-changing Indonesian tower landscape with an acquisition of 1021 towers from its parent company for a total of US$ 52.2million. edotco had been eyeing up Indonesia for a while and disclosed at TowerXchange meetup Asia that Thailand was also a target for immediate growth.  

Indonesia – Centratama becomes EdgePoint’s primary vehicle for tower operation

EdgePoint Infrastructure entered the Indonesian market last year with several equity deals that saw they acquire the vast majority of shares in local towerco Centratama, and also purchase around 4200 towers from Indosat Ooredoo. The two tower portfolio’s had been sitting on two different balance sheets until this month. EdgePoint Infrastructure CEO Suresh Sidhu commented that the consolidation will allow the group to more efficiently channel their investment into expanding Centratama’s suite of next-generation connectivity solutions and greatly simplify how they work with operators in the country. The total capital investment is valued at a maximum of US$ 350 million. 

Myanmar – Telenor sale to M1 Group gets Green light

Telenor's plans to exit Myanmar following the military coup that rocked the country throughout 2021 with a sale to Lebanese M1 group have been given the Greenlight. The transaction was worth US$105mn. M1 were previously co-owners of IGT alongside Blu Stone Management. After much delay and rumors of the sale being blocked, the Junta government approved the sale, so long as M1 group partner with a local entity. Telenor have had no direct involvement in the discussions between M1 and the local partner. 

China – 5G sites to reach 2 million by end of 2022

China is already leading the 5G charge in Asia alongside South Korea and Japan, with 1.42 million base stations already established across the country. In 2022 a further 600,000 will be added to the network to take the total to over 2 million by the end of the year. Upon completion the vast majority of urban areas in China will have access to 5G networks.  

Indian government to merge BBNL and BSNL

BNCL – the state backed MNO that accounts for less than 10% of Indian market share, will inherit 567,000km of fibre from BBNL – a separate state-run company that was established to deploy a nationwide fibre network. A few years ago, BSNL carved out its tower assets into a separate company, but has not sought external investment.  

MENA
Regional: e& exploring new markets and new M&A

e& (formerly Etisalat)’s CEO Hatem Dowidar has told Business Day that the internationa MNO is exploring options including potential ‘fresh joint ventures, acquisitions and listings of subsidiaries’ in Africa, Europe and Asia ‘with room for growth, political stability and strong regulations’. No specific markets have been given as potential targets. 

Iraq: Ericsson shares tumble as payments to Islamic State revealed

Reporting by The International Commission of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) posted on its site a number of articles about what it called “years of bribery and fraud” in Iraq. Ericsson tried to forestall the allegations 12 days ago when it published a statement admitting it broke rules in Iraq for an eight-year period in the last decade. The repercussions for Ericsson have been solely financial so far, but illustrate the dangers of doing business in conflict zones.  

Oman: Vodafone Oman celebrates launch

Vodafone Oman has now launched. The official launch follows a limited 5G launch in Muscat in December last year. The MNO has been working with Oman Tower Company to rollout sites ahead of launch as well as sharing sites with Omantel and Ooredoo where appropriate.  

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