Monthly News Roundup: March 2023
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Monthly News Roundup: March 2023

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

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EUROPE

Germany: Vodafone enters co-control partnership for Vantage Towers

Vodafone’s sale of 81.7% of its stake in Vantage Towers, its pan-European towerco to a consortium of investment firms KKR & Co., Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) has closed. The MNO has formed a co-control partnership with GIP and KKR called Oak Holdings. The co-control partnership has bought out the minority shareholders in Vantage Towers through a voluntary public takeover offer and now holds an 89.3% stake in the company. The towerco which became publicly traded on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in May 2021 will be delisted later in 2023.

Hungary: Antenna Hungaria swaps 25% stake in CETIN for Vodafone Hungary

Broadcast towerco, Antenna Hungaria, a subsidiary of 4iG, has swapped its 25% stake in the Hungarian subsidiaries of PPF Telecom Group (MNO Yettel and towerco CETIN) for 19.5% of Vodafone Hungary shares. Through the deal, Antenna Hungaria increases its stake in Vodafone to 70.5% and ceases to have any shareholding in Yettel and CETIN.

4iG, via Antenna Hungaria, and in partnership with the Hungarian state, completed the acquisition of Vodafone Hungary earlier in 2023. Antenna Hungaria acquired 51% with the Hungarian state taking the other 49% via investment vehicle Corvinus.

CETIN Hungary operated as a joint venture between the Czech Republic-based PPF Group (75%) and Antenna Hungaria (25%).

Slovakia: PPF Group carves out towers from O2 Slovakia

PPF Group has announced the separation of its passive infrastructure in Slovakia into O2 Networks "mirroring the operating model applied by the Group in all its subsidiaries." According to PPF’s recent financial results, O2 Networks, which was formed in 2022, is wholly owned by the group. At present O2 Networks provides services to the MNO O2 Slovakia.

PPF has already separated out its infrastructure and retail businesses in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia, with the infrastructure managed under CETIN Group.

AMERICAS

Brazil: Claro follows Vivo, TIM in scrapping sale of surplus Oi cell sites

Claro Brasil has cancelled the proposed sale of a number of surplus base stations it acquired via the three-way takeover of Oi Movel. The America Movil-backed mobile operator informed CADE, the Brszilian administrative council for economic defence, of the decision on 19 March 2023. Last year, in July 2022, Claro made 1,974 of the 4,700 acquired sites available for sale. This move follows similar actions by the two other rival operators in the country, TIM Brasil (3,610 base stations) and Vivo (2,700 base stations), both of which informed CADE of the lack of buyers earlier this month. All carriers have individually asked the regulator to cancel the obligations to dispose of the unwanted cell towers.

Brazil: Unifique mobile launch behind schedule; ISP targets June switch-on

Santa Catarina-based ISP Unifique was part of a consortium that successfully bid on Brazilian 5G spectrum back in 2021. The company has now confirmed that its planned mobile launch is running behind schedule. Unifique now plans to commence testing in April, ahead of a commercial launch in June. Unifique, in a consortium with a fellow fixed line operator Ligga Telecom (formerly Copel Telecom), successfully bid on a regional 3.5GHz licence in Brazil’s 5G spectrum auction two years ago. The companies agreed to pay BRL73.6 million (USD13.3 million) for an 80MHz block of spectrum (3620MHz-3700MHz) and agreed to commit approximately BRL69 million as investment into communications development in the south of the country.

Brazil: Regulator approves a further 195 municipalities for 3.5GHz 5G

Brazil’s national telecommunications agency Anatel confirmed that 3.5GHz licensees are able to activate 5G services in a further 195 municipalities from end of March 2023. The regulator has been steadily adding new locations to its list of locations approved for 5G services, and the current decision means that now a total of 682 locations have now been approved for 3.5GHz standalone (SA) 5G use. In terms of population coverage, this means that when the operators roll out their services in all approved locations, a total of 122.6 million Brazilians, or 57% of the population, will be able to receive 5G services. However, the final timeline for the rollouts depends on individual operator internal infrastructure development plans.

Brazil: Brisanet to launch 5G in 40 municipalities in 2023

Brazilian regional ISP Brisanet has provided an update regarding its planned 5G launch. Speaking to journalists during a conference call to discuss the company’s 4Q22 results, CEO Jose Roberto Nogueira confirmed that commercial 4G/5G networks are on course to go live at the end of the second quarter of 2023. The mobile network is being deployed in 40 municipalities in the interior of the Northeast and in Fortaleza, the capital of Ceara. TeleTime reports that a pilot is currently underway in the town of Pereiro, with 3,000 devices connected to the network.

The Ceara-based ISP acquired a trio of 5G concessions in 2021’s multi-band spectrum auction: a pair of 80MHz 3.5GHz licences covering the Northeast and Midwest, plus a 50MHz block of 2.3GHz spectrum covering the Northeast. Huawei was selected as Brisanet’s 5G vendor in May 2022.

Barbados: A newcome is issued a third mobile services licence

Authorities in Barbados have long been seeking to break up the Digicel-Flow duopoly. Now, a third service provider in Barbados has been finally licensed. The newcomer is a firm called KW Telecommunications, of which (and its backers) little is yet known. The regulators and the consumers in Barbados are, however, optimistic about the future influence of an additional operator on the market, which fills the void left when debt-wracked Ozone Wireless shut down in August 2019, barely two years after its launch.

Mexico: Network capacity wholesale licence issues to a state utility firm

In Mexico, the federal telecommunications institute IFT granted permission to lease network capacity, infrastructure and telecommunications services to the federal electricity commission CFE (Comision Federal de Electricidad). The state utility firm will now be able to provide these services to authorised companies as a wholesale operator. The CFE is not authorised to directly offer services to end users. It also has to comply with the principle of neutrality to competition and non-discriminatory treatment, as a part of the license. The initiative aims to encourage operators to leverage the infrastructure in order to extend coverage to underserved locations across Mexico.

AFRICA

Regional: Helios Towers release full year results

Helios Towers reported a revenue increase of 25% year-on-year to US$560.7m in FY22 (FY 2021: US$449.1m), driven by organic revenue growth of 14%, organic tenancy growth and CPI and power escalations, in addition to the acquisition of four tower portfolios in new markets across 2021 and 2022. Sites increased by 3,993 year-on-year to 13,553 sites reflecting a record 751 organic site additions and the acquisition of 3,242 sites during the year in Oman, Madagascar, Malawi and Senegal.

Regional: IHS Towers release full year results

IHS Towers reported its Q4 and full 2022 financial year results with a 26% increase in revenue up to $526.2mn, an increase in adjusted EBITDA of 25.9%, or $272.7mn. Over the full year of 2022, IHS Towers achieved revenues of $1.96bn, an increase in 24.2%, and an adjusted EBITDA earning of $1.03bn, an increase in 11.3%. Organic growth was primarily driven by power indexation, escalations, lease amendments, foreign exchange resets and new colocations, as well as fibre and new sites.

But revenues we offset by ongoing increases in diesel costs as a result of the Ukraine war as well as increases in O&M costs and administrative expenses associated with a PLC and the acquisition of MTN South Africa’s portfolio. Realised and unrealised foreign exchange losses and an increase in interest expense also impacted losses for the period.

2022 also saw the launch of IHS Towers Project Green, which has seen year-to-date spend of US$103.6mn, including US$61.3mn in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Regional: Orange partners with OneWeb for rural satellite coverage

Orange signed a distribution agreement with satellite company OneWeb to enhance rural connectivity in Europen, LatAm and Africa. OneWebs LEO technology will provide enhanced latency to customers in hard-to-reach areas to increase user satisfaction and support enterprises and backhaul in remote locations.

Gabon: Helios Towers-Airtel Africa deal dead

After over a year attempting to overcome regulatory barriers the deal to sell around 500 Gabonais towers to Helios Towers has been officially called off, according to Helios Towers end of year results.

Gambia: Gamcel seeking partnership to modernise network

Gamcel, a subsidiary of state-owned Gamtel, has initiated a tender to attract a partner to improve the quality of its existing 2G/3G network and provide 3G, 4G and 5G services, increased user capacity and improve service delivery. The project includes a deployment of a core 4G/5G network, upgrades to the existing 3G network and a robust billing system, as well as rolling out a further 250 3G/4G sites and 25 5G sites. Gamcel is currently Gambia’s smallest MNO by subscriptions with only 4% market share, far behind market-leading MNO Africell. However, Gamecel hopes that an upgrade to its core network will help the MNO expand its market presence through improvements in coverage and service.

Senegal: Government pushing increase in coverage

Senegal is to implement a plan to achieve nationwide mobile network coverage ‘as soon as possible’, local news agency APS reports. Improving access to telecom services, particularly broadband and mobile payment services, plays a key role in the government’s ‘Digital Senegal 2025’ strategic plan for the digital transformation of several sectors including health and education, as well as the wider ‘Emerging Senegal’ economic development plan.

South Africa: Vodacom Tower to launch imminently

After several months of planning and preparation the long-awaited Vodacom Towerco is expected to launch during Q2 2023. This tower carve-out will create the largest towerco in South Africa, and be a top 40 towerco worldwide.

ASIA

Australia: BAI Communications unveils new name: Boldyn Networks

Following an aggressive M&A policy that saw the Australian communications infrastructure leader acquire Mobilitie, Signal Point Systems, ZenFi Networks and Vilicom in the past couple of years, BAI Communications has decided the time has come to consolidate its branding of its six businesses into one. These four companies will join Transit Wireless and begin operating under their new name of Boldyn Networks in June 2023.

China: China Towers DAS coverage doubles in a year.

Heralded as the next frontier of shared connectivity infrastructure, towercos across Asia and the world are betting big on In Building Solutions in the wake of 5G use cases. For China Tower, this bet is paying off as revenue from its DAS business in 2022 reached RMB5,827 million, representing a year-on-year increase of 34.3%.

According to its end of year results, as of 31 December 2022 China Tower’s DAS business covers a cumulative area of 7.3 billion square meters, representing a year-on-year increase of 48.1%. In addition, their high-speed railway tunnels and subway coverage reached a cumulative length of 20,040km, a year-on-year increase of 18.5%.

India: KKR and CDPQ in race to purchase 50% of American Tower’s India business

A rocky start to 2023 saw cash-strapped Vodafone Idea say it would not be able to make good on its dues to American Tower, in addition to a US$411.6 million impairment charge that the world’s largest independent towerco has already suffered. This has led American Tower to “explore strategic alternatives” as per an SEC filing on February 23rd. Vi is by far American Tower’s largest customer in India and represents 3.2% of the group’s total revenue for 2022.

One of these strategic options is a stake sale, which it now appears CDPQ are frontrunners for. KKR also appear interested in the towerco, which would diversify its exposure to Asian towers beyond the backing of Pinnacle Towers in Bangladesh and The Philippines. Economic Times has reported that CDPQ has submitted a non-binding offer and begun due diligence work, while KKR have submitted a bid as well, but are yet to begin due diligence. 50% of American Tower’s business would be worth between $US750m-$US1billion according to the same source.

Indonesia: IOH plot eastward expansion

Following the completion of their merger and network integration efforts between Tri and Indosat Ooredoo, IOH has announced its immediate priority in terms of network rollout is the easternly province of Nusa Tenggara, where it believes its network is currently behind other operators. IOH has also announced plans to invest in its 5G transport network in Indonesia through a partnership with ZTE.

Malaysia: DNB 5G targets set for end of year, JENDELA Scheme renewed

Malaysia’s 2023 budget announcement had implications on the telecoms sector, as DNB set a nationwide target of 70% 5G coverage in densely populated areas, and a fresh round of funding was announced for the governments rural tower building program, the Jendela scheme. Malaysia is currently reviewing the DNB’s 5G wholesale network model, although it looks unlikely that regulator MCMC will change track.

Philippines: Frontier become first towerco to acquire sites from Smart and Globe

After an August 2022 transaction with Globe that saw Frontier cement itself leading towerco in the Philippines, the KKR backed towerco (which is owned by Singapore based Pinnacle Towers) has agreed to purchase 1012 towers from PLDT for $US220 million. The towers are primarily located in Luzon. The sale-and-leaseback will be complemented by a commitment of 550 new “points of service” for Smart over the next few years. Closing of the transaction will be staggered but the deal is expected to complete by 2023.

MENA

Regional: Ooredoo prepares network for 5G launch

Ooredoo has selected Nokia to upgrade its existing RAN and deploy new sites in Algeria and Tunisia to prepare for an upcoming 5G launch, including the deployment of small cells for in-door coverage. Ooredoo also signed a partnership with Huawei to deploy their 5G solutions in Iraq, Tunisia, Kuwait and Oman having signed a 5-year strategic global framework agreement back in 2021. While Ooredoo’s ongoing regional SLB of their 20,000 towers in MENA continues, the MNOs preparation for commercial 5G rollout will mean whoever takes over the tower portfolios will need to quickly begin supporting Ooredoo’s 5G network densification needs and prepare sites to be 5G ready.

Oman: Vodafone aims to cover 60% of Omanis with 5G by end of 2023

Vodafone Oman, owned by Oman Future Telecommunications, ended 2022 with around 450,000 mobile subscriptions, and aims to cover more than 60% of the Sultanate’s population with its 5G network by the end of 2023. Last year Vodafone Oman claimed to be the first MNO to provide 5G indoor coverage. Vodafone Oman is the country’s 3rd MNO launching services in 2021 and has been rapidly expanding points of presence primarily via build-to-suit delivered by Oman Tower Company.

Egypt: Government halts their sale of a 10% stake in Telecom Egypt

Egypt suspended plans to sell a 10% stake in Telecom Egypt only a few weeks after its announcement due to market conditions. The deal was to be offered firstly to buyers outside the Gulf sovereign funds as President Sisi ordered the government to draw up a programme to attract US$10bn in private investment over the next 4 years. A 10% stake in the MNO would be worth an estimated US$147mn and comes as the government suffers from a shortage of foreign reserves. Egypt has become an attractive market for regional investment due to low valuations: Qatar Investment Authority is in advanced conversation with the Egyptian government for a 20% stake in Vodafone Egypt. The Egyptian government owns 80% of Telecom Egypt’s shares with the remaining 20% privately owned.

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