Monthly News Roundup: May 2023
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Monthly News Roundup: May 2023

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

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AMERICAS

Regional: Microsoft’s Airband targeting new connectivity programmes in nine countries

Microsoft has announced a series of new and expanded partnerships across Latin America and Africa as part of its Airband initiative, which aims to improve connectivity to underserved and unserved communities in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. While some of the projects focus on training and skills many require supporting new infrastructure. In Colombia Microsoft is partnering with Anditel to provide coverage to more than 600,000 people in five years. In Guatemala Microsoft is supporting Wayfree’s deployment of wireless access zones in towns and villages. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda Microsoft will be working with ISP Mawingu. And in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire Microsoft will be working with ISP Tizeti.

Argentina: 5G auction to take place in June

After a series of delays, the National Communications Agency ENACOM in Argentina is pushing to hold the 5G spectrum auction as soon as possible. June 2023 has now been earmarked to be the earliest possible date. As per government projections, the 5G auction is expected could raise as much as USD1.4 billion.

Brazil: Regulator approves a further 459 municipalities for 5G

Brazil’s national telecommunications agency Anatel confirmed that 3.5GHz licensees are able to activate 5G services in a further 459 municipalities from 30 May 2023. The decision means that a total of 1,423 towns and cities have now been approved for 3.5GHz Standalone (SA) 5G use, equating to 138 million Brazilians, or 64.7% of the population.

Costa Rica: The regulator initiates the 5G auction process

On 2 May, it was announced that Costa Rica’s regulator Sutel is to formally initiate the country’s 5G auction process. Sutel is in charge of staging a public consultation, establishing eligible bidders and running the tender process. While the 5G auction will chiefly comprise spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, frequencies in the 2600MHz band may also be included. The auction is earmarked to take place in the second half of 2023.

In the meantime, Costa Rica’s state utility and telecoms firm Grupo ICE has been testing 5G private business network connections, aiming to start offering such services to government clients, the industrial, agricultural, logistics, SME and corporate segments by the end of year, and commercially in 2024.

Dominican Republic: Regulator poised to auction the 700MHz band

The Dominican Telecommunications Institute, Indotel, announced its plans to stage an auction of unused 700MHz frequencies. The tender will be launched in the coming months and the auction process is expected to conclude at the beginning of 2024. The 700MHz frequencies were originally included in 2021’s 5G spectrum auction but failed to attract any bids. The administration has been focusing on the reorganisation of disused radio spectrum, so that it can be used to improve the coverage of the services offered by the providers in the national territory.

Guatemala: Spectrum auction in 2.5GHz-2.6GHz band to go ahead in June

Guatemala’s regulator SIT will stage an auction of unused frequencies in the 2.5GHz-2.6GHz range on 2 June 2023. The process is expected to generate between USD30 million and USD50 million, and 75% of the proceeds will be allocated towards connectivity projects. SIT first disclosed plans to auction the spectrum in September 2022, after receiving a number of requests from local mobile operators Claro and Tigo.The 2.5GHz band is suitable for both mobile coverage and fixed wireless, it is used internationally for 5G, but can be used for 4G services as well. Alongside the new auction, SIT is also said to be going ahead with a spectrum reordering process in the 700MHz band, for 4G LTE. There has been no 5G spectrum auction in Guatemala, but Claro and Tigo have launched non-standalone 5G services, taking advantage of their spectrum holdings and existing 4G LTE infrastructure.

Guatemala: Starlink receives an ISP licence

Guatemala’s regulator SIT issued an ISP licence to Starlink Internet Services Guatemala. The concession was awarded on 19 May. According to official documents, this initiative seeks to provide equal opportunities to all Guatemalans, eliminating the barriers that exist in internet access and promoting socioeconomic development. SpaceX currently has around 4,000 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch 42,000 in total. To date, more than 50 countries are known to have authorised Starlink to offer fixed broadband connectivity.

Panama: Second tender to replace Digicel takes place

Prequalification for the second tender to replace Digicel Panama closed on 24 May, with the national public services authority ASEP confirming that General Internacional Telecom Panama (Gitpan) remains the sole interested party. Previously, Gitpan was named as the only bidder for PCS licence on 16 March 2023, but failed to submit sufficient documentation. If Gitpan’s new paperwork is deemed appropriate, it is likely to be granted the 20-year licence, which was vacated by Digicel Panama in 2022. Gitpan is a UK-based entity, incorporated in June 2021. The company’s director is a South Carolina-based lawyer named William Liston Pitman, while Cayman Islands-based Jaguar Fund is named as an initial shareholder.

Uruguay: Claro, Movistar and Antel win 5G spectrum

Two of Uruguay’s existing mobile network operators – Claro and Movistar – were the sole participants in the 5G spectrum auction held by the regulatory unit of communications services URSEC on 9 May 2023. Each operator acquired 1×100MHz of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, with Claro bidding USD28.10 million and Movistar paying USD28.05 million for the licences. A further 1×100MHz in that band was also reserved for state-owned incumbent Antel. Each licence will be valid for 25 years. Rollout obligations include a requirement to deploy a specific number of base stations in the first three years, spread across all of the country’s departments.


AFRICA

Regional: IHS Towers sustainability report published

IHS Towers published its 2022 Sustainability Report, detailing its ESG activities, including: US$7.5mn spent on community-focused sustainability initiatives, 18scholarships in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria under the Frontline Workers Initiative, concluded the first year of a three-year partnership supporting Giga, an UNICEF-ITU initiative for connecting all schools to the internet. IHS Towers also committed to reducing its Scope 1 and Scope 2 kilowatt-hour (kWh) emissions intensity by approximately 50% by 2030 compared to a 2021 baseline. Read more here.

Regional: Investors plan takeover of West Africa mobile operators

Afri-USA Business Initiative is planning at buying stakes in three mobile network operators in Benin, Chad and Gambia, reports Zimbabwean news site bulawayo24.com, via Commsupdate. The consortium reportedly has access to a US$100 million fund to buy equity in African GSM operators It has not been confirmed which operators are being targetted, but none of the above markets have yet seen a successful towerco begin operations. The deals would thus create an opportunity for a towerco to pursue a sale and leaseback to assist the new owners in network development.

Regional: Microsoft’s Airband targeting new connectivity programmes in nine countries

Microsoft has announced a series of new and expanded partnerships across Latin America and Africa as part of its Airband initiative, which aims to improve connectivity to underserved and unserved communities in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire. While some of the projects focus on training and skills many require supporting new infrastructure. In Colombia Microsoft is partnering with Anditel to provide coverage to more than 600,000 people in five years. In Guatemala Microsoft is supporting Wayfree’s deployment of wireless access zones in towns and villages. In Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda Microsoft will be working with ISP Mawingu. And in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire Microsoft will be working with ISP Tizeti.

Regional: MTN planning sale to Axian Group in three markets

MTN Group is in advanced talks with Axian Group to sell some of its West African markets in Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea. None of the above three markets have seen substantial penetration by towercos and could see the establishment of TowerCo of Africa subsidiaries as Axian Group splits out the passive and active infrastructure. The three countries accounted for 1.6% of MTN’s revenue in 2022 and would benefit from the extra attention of being a larger part of a smaller portfolio.

Regional: OneWeb moves into Africa’s rural connectivity space

Broadband satellite service provider OneWeb has signed a deal with iSat Africa to provide reliable high speed, low-latency communications services from its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation targeting enterprises and operators in rural areas. The deal aims to bridge the digital divide on the continents. While mobile satellite connectivity bypassing terrestrial tower networks remains some ways off, the recent increase in LEO deals between satellite connectivity providers and MNOs to address rural coverage in Africa opens the door to potential future competition between the terrestrial and non-terrestrial providers.

Cameroon: MNOs combat service quality issues

Cameroon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Board (ART) has issued fines worth XAF6 billion (US$9.8mn) for poor network quality to the countries four MNOs. Prior to this, MTN and Orange Cameroon announced new measures to improve service quality in response to customer complains. Both operators will be accelerating the implementation of their 2023 network investment plans to modernize the country’s mobile intrastructure to improve quality and extend coverage. Last month, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications called in local MNOs MTN, Orange, Viettel and CamTel to discuss plans to address customer complaints.

Ethiopia: Tender for third mobile licence expected in June

After years of waiting, Ethiopia will launch a tender for a third licence in June, Reuters reports, citing Balcha Reba, Director General of the Ethiopian Communication Authority (ECA). ‘We have planned to launch the tender in June. More details will be released when we approach the launch date,’ Reba informed the news agency via a text message. As of yet no towercos are active in Ethiopia and no licencing regime for towercos exists and a newly proposed regulation for licence fees lacks a category for towercos. However, TowerXchange is aware of towercos in discussions to explore ways to enter the market.

Ghana: 4G amendments at 1,000 sites by MTN this year

MTN Ghana plan to spend over US$1bn in the five year period to 2025 CEO Selorm Adadevoh has claimed, with US$650mn spent by the end of 2023. MTN Ghana has 2G/3G population coverage of 99.5% and 4G population coverage of 99.3%, yet MTN plan to deploy 4G at around 1,000 additional sites this year to meet capacity and speed requirements

Malawi: 5G rollouts slowly start

Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) made 5G services available on a pilot basis in Blantyre at Clocktower Mall (opposite Mwaiwathu Hospital) and in Lilongwe at Bingu International Convention Centre, while more sites have been earmarked for Mzuzu and Zomba. This follows a US$5mn project to modernise its networks to support increased data. TNM hopes its new 5G services could enable growth into IoT connectivity for smart agriculture, automated mining, robotics and IoT-supported logistics and manufacturing.

Mozambique: Tmcel at risk of collapse as Vodacom launch 5G

Tmcel risks collapse if urgent action is not taken due to an inability to pay its bills, workers and bondholders. The company now owes US$400mn with the government likely to pursue a sale of over 80% of Tmcel’s assets, the reduction of its workforce and the assumption of debt by the state, with a view to attracting a strategic partner to help with the company’s recovery. Meanwhile, Vodacom Mocambique has said 5G connectivity was now available in parts of Maputo, Nampula, Nacala, Beira and Tete.

Rwanda: MTN expects Rwanda 4G launch in June

MTN Rwanda plans to launch 4G by the end of June to compete with the 4G network owned by Korea Telecom Rwanda Networks (KTRN) since 2013. The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) aims to modify KTRN’s licence to allow other companies to deploy 4G networks under revised technology-neutral permits. MTN, Airtel and other Rwandan operators currently use the KTRN network on a wholesale basis.

South Africa: Rain launches standalone mobile network

South African operator Rain has announced that it has entered the mobile market for the first time, following its LTE-only fixed wireless service. As per the company’s media statement: ‘After acquiring spectrum in the 2022 auction, Rain is overlaying its existing 4G network with a new layer that provides for more comprehensive reach … Customers with rainOne will be able to seamlessly port their existing number and use Rain Mobile as their primary SIM, with national 4G mobile coverage.’

Tanzania: Government launches Digital Tanzania project

The Tanzanian Government has launched a ‘Digital Tanzania’ project supported by the World Bank and in partnership with MNOs to achieve 80% broadband penetration by 2025. Data services will be extended to over 1,400 new villages and 8.5 million Tanzanias, with a total expected cost of US$112mn implemented under the Universal Communication Services Access Fund (UCSAF). MNOs will need to deploy 758 new towers to underserved areas. Additionally, 304 existing 2G sites will be upgraded to 3G and 4G.

Uganda: 5G spectrum sale to begin

The Ugandan regulator has invited applications for its planned sale of 5G spectrum, which it hopes to complete by mid-August. Application must present a clear five-year rollout plan and agree to reach 90% geographic coverage by the end of the fifth year, with average downlink data rate of 25Mbps in greater Kampala and 15Mbps rates guaranteed in other regional centres.

Zimbabwe: Telecel rescue underway

Zimbabwe’s has placed Telecel under corporate rescue to prevent liquidation. A report from News Day says that the bankruptcy protection measure will protect the cellco from potential lawsuits filed by creditors.


ASIA

Bangladesh: EDOTCO Bangladesh appoints Sunil Isaac as new Country Managing Director

Following the departure of Ricky Steyn in late 2022, EDOTCO have named a permanent replacement in Isaac, who brings 27 years of experience in the industry. Bangladesh is EDOTCO’s largest market in terms of owned and managed towers. As one of the fastest growing telecommunications markets in the world, Isaac’s key priorities will be scaling the portfolio through building new sites, and supporting operators upgrading to 5G, a development that is expected to hit the country soon.

"I am thrilled to join EDOTCO Bangladesh at this exciting time in the company's growth journey," said Isaac in a press release. "My focus will be on helping our customers to expand their reach to the unconnected or under-connected people by expanding our tower infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas. I look forward to working with the team to drive innovation, build strong partnerships, and deliver value to our customers."

China: China Tower smart tower business grows, core tower business declines in Q1

China Tower smart tower business, which aims to expand onsite monitoring capabilities for MNOs and open up towers to local governments, IOT providers and non-traditional tenants, registered double digit growth in Q123. Alongside its energy business, which also repurposes existing infrastructure and resources to widen China Towers customer base to the Electric Vehicle industry or battery recycling, the two new business units share of China Tower’s overall Revenue increased by 3%, while revenue from the tower business fell as a result of new rental agreements negotiated with opeartos for a further five year term.

India: Brookfield mulling equity sale in Summit Digitel

Anonymous sources have told Bloomberg that Canadian Infrastructure Investor Brookfield are considering at least a 10% equity stake sale in Indian Towerco Summit Digitel. Brookfield entered the Indian market in 2021, forming Summit Digitel after they bought the tower portfolio of Reliance Jio. They are reportedly already working with an advisor on the deal. The news comes hot on the heels of reports American Tower are also looking at offloading as much as half of their Indian Tower unit.

Indonesia: Communications Minister arrested on corruption charges

Johnny G. Plate, Indoneisa’s Communications Minister has been arrested for taking bribes and costing the Indonesian government in excess of half a billion dollars in a failed rural network rollout scheme. The 2021 plan to connect remote villages in Indonesia should have seen 4,200 towers deployed to rural and ultra rural locations, but so far only 985 towers have been completed. Investigators described the network as “unusable.”

The business post has reported that Huawei executive Mukti Ali and four other people connected to the scheme are also under investigation.

Japan: JTOWER to build 150 sites with at least 2x tenancy ratio by March 2024

In an exclusive interview with TowerXchange, JTOWER CEO Atsushi Tanaka revealed that JTOWER have been building rural towers in areas that MNOs are required to cover as part of their 5G licences. Japan’s only towerco, which specialises in IBS, has ensured a second tenant will be in place on all sites it builds, guaranteeing a healthy tenancy ratio of more than 2x across all of its new builds. To read the full interview click here.

Malaysia: DNB rival confirmed

The Malaysian government have confirmed it plans to launch a second wholesale 5G network in early 2024. Anwar Ibrahim’s government has introduced a series of reforms designed to increase competition in Malaysia since taking power 6 months ago. DNB is currently tasked with covering 80% of Malaysia’s populated area by the end of 2023, which would give it a head start on its rival. 4 of Malaysia’s MNOs have taken an equity stake in DNB and all but Maxis (who didn’t take any equity) have agreed access rights. Read our extended analysis here.

Myanmar: Cyclone Mocha leaves 3,000 tower sites in ruins.

An approximate structural economic loss of $45 million is estimated from buildings and telecom towers in Myanmar following the devastating cyclone Mocha. Cyclone Mocha intensified as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm (ESCS) as it approached Myanmar on May 14, 2023, and made landfall, leaving 800 injured, 5 dead and severely damaging energy and telecom infrastructure.

Philippines: Globe agrees fourth sale and leaseback – this time with Unity Digital Infrastructure

Following in the footsteps of Frontier Tower Associates, Unity Digital Infrastructure has become the second towerco to secure a sale and leaseback transaction with both Globe and Smart. The Aboitiz and Partner Group backed towerco has agreed to purchase 447 towers for the equivalent of $US97m. The towers are all located in the Luzon region, and will be leased back to Globe for an initial term of 15 years. The first close of the portfolio is expected to come in Q323.


MENA

Egypt: Government sells 9.5% stake in Telecom Egypt

The government raised US$121mn welling a 9.5% stake in Telecom Egypt, with most of these shares sold to local investors and foreign investors claiming a limited amount. The sale forms part of a broader plan by the government to sell state assets with US$2bn due to economic challenges. The move follows rumours of a tower sale progressing at Telecom Egypt, which would further bolster the financial position of the telco in the rapidly growing but challenging Egyptian market.

Oman: Population coverage targets increased

Oman’s TRA expects to see 100% of telecom towers supporting 4G and 5G services by the end of 2025, with coverage reaching 98% of the population coverage by that date. Data from TeleGeography show that Ooredoo Oman reported at end-March 2023 that its 4G LTE network covered 97.9% of the population while its 5G coverage reached 60.6% at end-1Q23, up from 49% six months earlier; Ooredoo also reported that 94.2% of its mobile network sites were 4G-enabled by 31 March 2023. However, significantly more investment will be required by newcomer Vodafone Oman to meet these targets.

Tunisia: 5G coming by 2024

Tunisia is preparing to launch the country’s first commercial 5G services next year, setting out a roadmap over the next few weeks. Minister Communication Technologies Nizar Ben Neji highlighted the importance of 5G to Tunisia’s digital strategy, as the reduced latency and higher capacity will allow for the adoption of next-generation technologies to boost innovation and technological progress.

Libya: Government adopts ICT sector strategy for 2027

Abdul Hamid Dbeibe, head of Libya’s Government of National Unity, has approved the National Strategy for the Communications and Informatics Sector 2023-2027. Since the war to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the Libya has remained in a state of conflict, causing widespread damage to the country's telecoms infrastructure and disrupted network modernization and expansion. The new plan aims to introduce new projects to develop telecommunications infrastructure to support a sustainable and secure digital sector. While further details remain to be published, the new strategy looks to spark the beginning of a reconstruction efforts for the country’s impacted infrastructure network.


EUROPE

Regional: Vantage Towers with new interim CEO

Vantage Towers's Chief Financial Officer Thomas Reisten has taken over duties of CEO Vivek Badrinath effective from 23 May and has assumed the role of interim CEO, the company has announced.

Badrinath announced earlier in 2023 he was not going to seek extension of his contract which ends at the end of 2023 for personal reasons. Vivek Badrinath will remain a member of the Management Board until the end of June 2023 to ensure an orderly handover before he leaves the towerco.

Belgium: Digi’s Citymesh deploys small cells as part of rollout

Belgium’s incoming 4th MNO Citymesh Mobile has announced with Dense Air Networks that it is rolling out small cells to support its new network, due to launch in 2024. Dense Air’s RAN-as-a-service small cells use Dense Air Belgium’s 45MHz of 4G/5G frequencies in the 2.6GHz band. Commenting on the deal, Citymesh CTO Robin Leblon said: ‘Dense Air’s solution will play an important part in the rollout of our high-speed, high-capacity nationwide 5G network. Targeted 5G small cell deployments are a highly effective way to tackle connectivity challenges, particularly in areas where deploying a large macro cell site isn’t an option.’

Hungary: CETIN Hungary wins mmWave spectrum license

The towerco has acquired two lots 2×56MHz, total 112MHz at an auction of spectrum licenses in the 32 GHz frequency band. In addition to CETIN, MNOs Magyar Telekom and Vodafone Hungary also took part in the auction, each winning 15-year concessions with total bids of HUF970 million ($US 2.79 million).

The tender follows the Hungarian regulator’s (NMHH) plan to allocate unused 32 GHz spectrum. It is part of MNHH's strategy of scheduled clearance of the 26GHz band and reallocation of 26 GHz frequencies to be used for 5G purposes and to increase domestic 5G coverage.

Italy: WIND Tre carves out assets and sells majority stake to EQT Infrastructure

MNO Wind Tre has carved out its mobile and fixed network infrastructure into a new company and sold a 60% stake in it to Swedish investment firm EQT Infrastructure. According to EQT, the bespoke transaction's enterprise value is EUR 3.4 billion. Wind Tre's current owner CK Hutchison will own a 40% stake in the new entity.

The new company's strategy will focus on developing its network and service offering, while pursuing additional growth opportunities in areas such as fixed wireless access, IoT and private networks. The new company will be led by Benoit Hanssen, currently co-CEO of Wind Tre. The deal is pending regulatory approvals and is expected to close within six to nine months.

Poland: Government to launch 3.5GHz spectrum auction

Polish government is expected to start the process of a long-awaited auction of 5G-capable 3.5 GHz licenses in the next few weeks. The Office for Electronic Communications (UKE) will announce applications for four concessions with allocation expected to happen in Q4. The country's four MNOs have already launched 5G using their existing spectrum licenses in the 2100MHz and 2600MHz bands.

According to 5G Observatory’s recent report on developments in the deployment of 5G in the EU, Poland and Netherlands are the only countries in the EU where mid-band spectrum has not been assigned yet.

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