Telecom Tower Industry | TowerXchange’s Middle East and North Africa guide
A country-by-country guide to the tower industry in MENA: Q423 update
This last quarter has been dominated by the finalising of TASCs mega-merger with Ooredoo’s near-entire regional portfolio. ‘New TASC’ has become by far the largest towerco in the region, becoming responsible for just under 30,000 towers across six MENA markets; Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, with an estimated value of US$2.2bn. Ooredoo and Zain will retain equal shareholdings of 49.3% through an asset and cash equalization process as Ooredoo’s tower portfolio is much larger than Zain’s, with TASC retaining the remaining 1.4% through Digital Infrastructure Assets LLP.
Left out of the deal was Ooredoo Oman’s 3,000-tower portfolio that is part of a separate sale to a yet-unknown entity. Oman Tower Company is known to be involved in the bidding process, although Helios Towers is prioritising organic growth, growing tenancies and shoring up their current portfolio. The deal is understood to be involved in an 'international sale', suggesting the possibility that a third towerco might enter the market.
This deal had put TASC’s acquisition of Zain’s Bahrain sites on hold, due to close in H2 last year, but is now part of the regional merger. However, it seems the hand-over of Zain sites in Sudan and South Sudan will remain on hold until the conflict subsides.
Saudi Arabia is seeing the final step in towerco consolidation, with Mobily starting the process of reviewing a tower sale. There is only one likely buyer for this portfolio should a deal emerge; the country’s Public Infrastructure Fund (PIF) which is currently restructuring the tower market. Having acquired Zain KSA’s 8,069 sties at the start of 2023, the fund has since acquired Zain’s remaining 20% share, as well as stc Group’s 51% stake in their towerco entity TAWAL.
It is likely that PIF will merge these two entities together, acquire Mobily’s stake, and create an industry champion – although this remains speculative for now. Despite losing out in the final round of bids for Ooredoo’s towers, TAWAL has expanded overseas through the acquisition of United Group in Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.
Pakistan, traditionally the most active tower market in the region, saw a slowdown in build-to-suit over 2023 as macroeconomic market conditions stifled the ability for MNOs to continue fuelling network growth due to inflation, large increases in energy prices, a shortage of US$ and import restrictions. It also cut Jazz’s sale of its tower unit Deodar short for a second time, as the operator failed to reach an agreement on asset valuation due to the depreciation of the PKR vs US$.
However, as the market begins to stabilise and operators prepare their networks for 5G spectrum expected to come in 2024, a long-term outlook appears positive. A big driving factor to this has been the acquisition of Norwegian-based multinational MNO Telenor’s sale of its business unit to Ufone, a JV between state-owned PTCL and UAE-based multinational MNO e&.
When Mobilink and Warid merged to form Jazz in 2015, ARPUs shot up as a result of consolidation. This deal is expected to have a similar impact in helping to reduce market competition and bring ARPUs up to a healthier level. While there has been no official confirmation, it is likely that a tower sale or carve-out may follow assuming market condition stabilise.
With New TASC entering two new markets in North Africa, Egypt is readying for it’s first sale leaseback, as Telecom Egypt is in talks for the sale of 2,500 of its 2,800-tower portfolio, with bids ranging from US$150-250mn, putting a per-tower valuation at US$60-100,000. These sites are understood to be 50% ground-based and 50% rooftop, with most in urban areas. The deal is also understood to include a build-to-suit commitment of 1,500 – 2,000 sites. Bidders are carrying out due diligence and the transaction is expected to be finalised by Q1 2024.
In the following pages TowerXchange will update you on the vital statistics and dynamics of the 16 MENA markets we cover.
Figures included in the report:
Figure 1: Breakdown of ownership of MENA’s telecom towers
Figure 2: Tower counts across MENA markets
Figure 3: Footprints of MENA’s major MNOs
Figure 4: Heatmap of tower deals and towerco activity in MENA
Figure 5: Algeria – estimated tower count
Figure 6: Egypt – estimated tower count
Figure 7: Iran – estimated tower count
Figure 8: Iraq – estimated tower count
Figure 9: Jordan – estimated tower count
Figure 10: Kuwait – estimated tower count
Figure 11: Morocco– estimated tower count
Figure 12: Oman– estimated tower count
Figure 13: Pakistan – estimated tower count
Figure 14: Qatar Mobile Market Share
Figure 15: Saudi Arabia – estimated tower count
Figure 16: SIMs per tower in MENA
Figure 17: Tunisia – estimated tower count
Figure 18: High telecom service quality in the UAE
Figure 19: Major tower transactions in MENA since 2017