Monthly News Roundup: April 2023
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Monthly News Roundup: April 2023

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

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EUROPE

Regional: Cellnex announce new CEO

Tobias Martinez founding CEO of Cellnex is stepping down on 3 June 2023 after leading the company for eight years. Marco Patuano, former chairman of Cellnex will step into the CEO role on 4 June 2023. Anne Bouverot, Chair of Cellnex, commented: "On behalf of the Board, I am delighted to welcome Marco as the new CEO of Cellnex following a thorough and comprehensive recruitment process. Marco is an experienced and respected leader with a deep understanding of the dynamics of the telecommunications sector and the European tower market. We are looking forward to supporting him as he takes on responsibility for delivering the next chapter of Cellnex".

"I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Tobias for his exceptional leadership and the decisive role he has played in building Europe's leading telecoms infrastructrure provider".

"Marco and Tobias have committed to working together in the coming weeks to ensure a seamless transition after the General Meeting and the continued rapid delivery of the strategic priorities we announced in November last year, centered on driving value enhancing and organic growth and strenghtening the balance sheet to underpin an investment grade rating".

Marco Patuano, CEO designate, said: "I would like to thank the Cellnex Board for its trust in proposing my nomination to be the next CEO. Cellnex is a great company with a bright future and, if appointed, I will be committed to the strategy announced in November 2022 which shows a clear path to value creation, organic growth and investment grade".

Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia: TAWAL buys 4,800 towers from United Group

Saudi Arabia's TAWAL has signed an agreement to acquire 4,800 towers from United Group in Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia for EUR1.2bn (US$1.34bn). This move is the towerco's first step on the European market and follows its international expansion into Pakistan in February 2023.

According to reports in Bulgarian media, Netherlands-headquartered United Group has announced plans to use the proceedings of the sale to increase liquidity and to pay its near-term bond maturities which totaled EUR 525 million in Q4 2022 and have fallen amid soaring inflation and rising interest rates. The group has also announced plans to roll out about 2,000 additional sites over the next 20 years, which will allow it to “continue providing high quality service to its customers on a long-term basis.”

At present United Group will keep control on its towers in Bosnia, Montenegro, Greece and Serbia and will look to continue its successful M&A and expansion activities within the EU.

Czech Republic: CETIN buys local ISP Nej.cz

PPF Group’s CETIN has announced it will acquire the local broadband service provider Nej.cz for an undisclosed sum. Nej.cz’s infrastructure reaches nearly half a million households across the country through fibre. The deal will complement CETIN’s own infrastructure which reaches 4.2 million households. The closing of the transaction is pending approval by the Czech Competition Authority.

During its investor results call in March, the PPF Group announced fibre investments being among its future plans in order to react to competitive threats and to be able to introduce next generation service features more easily.

Hungary: 4iG to spin off Digi mobile infrastructure

4iG has announced plans to spin off and sell mobile network of its wholly owned MNO Digi. Under a programme to rationalise the group’s mobile portfolio, the Digi infrastructure will be placed into a separate company. Assets to be spun off include mobile network infrastructure, other passive and active mobile communication devices, radio frequency usage rights and more than 2,500 towers.

Digi which used to be owned by Romanian ICT group Digi Communications, launched mobile operations in Hungary in 2019. The MNO was excluded from the country’s 5G auctions, and its Romanian owner sold its Hungarian business to 4iG exiting the market in early 2022.

Italy: WindTre to spin off and sell infrastructure assets to Swedish EQT

Italian MNO WindTRE has notified trade unions about its plans to spin off and sell a 60% stake of its infrastructure assets to Swedish private equity fund EQT. The assets include its active mobile network which is spread across Italy, and some fixed network and transport networks. The remaining 40% of the separated network company will be held by Wind Tre's owner CK Hutchison, via CK Hutchison Group Telecom Italy Investments. The separation of the network is expected to be completed by 1st October.


AMERICAS

Bolivia: A spectrum system overhaul launched ahead of the 5G auction

The Bolivian government has begun a tender to implement a new national integrated radio spectrum system (SINER). The proposed system would help standardise the frequencies used for mobile services as the country prepares for the advent of 5G. This is Bolivia’s second tender for SINER, with no winner emerging during a previous attempt in June 2022. The contract is worth BOB156.8mn (US$22.1mn).

Brazil: 5G licence owning ISP Unifique to work with ZTE for 5G rollout

Brazilian ISP Unifique, which successfully bid on Brazilian mobile spectrum in 2021 as a part of a consortium, has reportedly to partner Chinese vendor ZTE to procure 5G equipment for its network rollout. Unifique is due to start testing its 5G network for a commercial launch in June. The company expects to spend BRL25mn (US$5mn) in 2023 on building up its network capacity. Back in November 2021, Unifique and a fixed line operator Ligga Telecom (then operating as Copel Telecom), successfully bid on a regional 3.5GHz licence in Brazil’s 5G spectrum auction. The additional potential tenancies from the rollout will help fill the gap left by Oi’s exit.

Brazil: Regional ISP Brisanet starts testing its 5G network

Another 5G concession holding Brazilian ISP Brisanet has started testing its new mobile network in the north-eastern municipalities in Rio Grande do Norte. A newcomer in the mobile space, the company has been vocal about its aims to establish itself among the main mobile telephony companies in the country within the next few years. The regional ISP acquired three 5G concessions in 2021’s multi-band spectrum auction: a pair of 80MHz 3.5GHz licences covering the Northeast and Midwest, and a 50MHz block of 2.3GHz spectrum covering the Northeast. In May 2022, Brisanet selected Huawei as its 5G equipment vendor to support the rollouts. The company plans to stage a commercial launch in June 2023. The company’s CEO Jose Roberto Nogueira has previously stated that rather than partnering with tower companies, Brisanet plans to build its network from scratch.

The Caribbean: Starlink signs deals in Honduras and Bahamas

Hondutel, the national fixed line provider of Honduras, has signed a new agreement with Starlink to deliver satellite connectivity to remote areas of the country. The operator has started testing a small number of satellite antennas to establish the quality of coverage in hard-to-reach areas where there is no cell phone footprint or any other type of service. Starlink has also been granted a licence to provide satellite broadband in the Bahamas – the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) has now formally confirmed that Starlink Services Bahamas was issued a Class Spectrum Licence and a Class Operating Licence and can provide its services on the archipelago. A SpaceX-backed LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite provider, Starlink currently has around 4,000 satellites in orbit, and aims to launch a total of around 42,000. The company has procured licences for over 50 markets and launched satellite broadband in Ecuador at the end of March 2023 and offers connectivity services that could compete with traditionally delivered fixed and wireless broadband.

Chile: Subtel authorises Claro to offer 5G services via existing spectrum

Chilean regulator Subtel has granted the local unit of Claro provisional authorisation to offer commercial 5G services via its 3.5GHz spectrum. The regulator’s decision followed recommendations from Chile’s Free Competition Tribunal and Supreme Court that argued that having four competitors in the 5G space would improve competition and provide a better service for mobile users. The three rival operators - Entel, Movistar and WOM – have been arguing against the decision. So far, Claro has been unable to launch a 5G offering in Chile as the 3.5GHz band was restricted to fixed wireless use. Now this limitation was overturned. Since the operator did not obtain its spectrum at auction, it is required to present a technical plan similar to those presented during the 2020 auctions, and an investment roadmap for connecting remote locations. Upon satisfying these conditions, the carrier will be able to start offering 5G services. According to Subtel’s data, at end-2022 there were 2,040,071 5G connections in Chile. Entel leads the market with 904,000 connections, giving it a market share of 44.3%. Movistar has 609,000 connections, while WOM takes third place with 256,000.

Uruguay: 5G spectrum auction delayed to early May 2023

The 5G spectrum auction, which was due to happen in Uruguay on 28th April 2023, has now been delayed in response to an extension request from Claro Uruguay. The country’s regulator URSEC agreed to postpone the auction to 9th May 2023, with 28th April set as the deadline for potential bidders to pay their upfront deposit. The auction will see three lots available, with each consisting of a 1x100MHz block of 3.5GHz spectrum, one of which is pre-allocated to state provider Antel. The reserve price is set at US$28mn, with each permit valid for 25 years.

AFRICA

Ghana: Vodafone and MTN expand national roaming

Vodafone Ghana announced the expansion of its national roaming partnership with MTN to improve connectivity for customers throughout the country. Originally a pilot programme launched in April 2022, the success of the project has led the MNOs to expand the initiative to nation-wide coverage.

Ghana: Vodafone Ghana partners with Lynk for satellite connectivity

Satellite-to-phone provider Lynk has signed its second commercial contract in Africa with Vodafone-Ghana-owners Telecel Group to provide direct satellite-to-smartphone networking services. Lynk will provide mobile coverage to 100% of Ghana’s 31 million inhabitants, specifically Vodafone Ghana’s 6 million subscribers. This allows the MNO to extend rural coverage, ensure resilient backup service and act as a replacement for underperforming towers. Telecel Group acquired Vodafone Group’s 70% majority shares in Vodafone Ghana earlier this year. Currently Lynk can offer twice daily SMS services, but is preparing for Voice and Data services.

Madagascar: World Bank approves US$400mn to support digital services

The World Bank has approved US$400mn of credit to support the Digital and Energy Connectivity for Inclusion in Madagascar Project (DECIM) that will connect 3.4 million people to the internet as well as double energy access in the country. The project will focus on deploying infrastructure and mobilising capital to expand access to energy and digital services in underserved areas. Rural connectivity infrastructure providers have seen great success in Madagascar with AMN, Vanu and TowerCo of Madagascar all rolling out networks, as well as minigrid providers who have found success in fulfilling the country’s rural energy infrastructure needs. Just 33% of the country’s population has reliable electricity access while mobile broadband sits at 54.7%.

Nigeria: 9mobile invests in network expansion and upgrades

Nigerian MNO 9mobile is committing US$151.6mn in upgrading and expanding its network operations in a plan to regain market share. This includes the rollout of 500 new 4G telecom sites as well as the extension of its fibre networks and broadband services which will boost the MNOs service presence and quality of service. “we are taking back lost territories in the market and forging ahead to reclaim our innovative position and industry leadership” said CEO of 9mobile Juergen Peschel at the Channel Partners Conference, with promises that 9mobile is on the path to resurgence.

Senegal: Free plans improvements in network performance

Senegalese MNO Free Senegal has announced plans to provide 3G and 4G coverage to 96% and 90% of the population after investing over US$217mn in network upgrades. But despite deploying 2,500km of fibre network to improve transmission, the MNO still faces data performance challenges. Free plans to improve connectivity by launching 5G test phases in several districts in the capital and building up its network backbone in urban centres, partnering with Helios Towers, Ericsson, SagemCom and Huawei.

Senegal: Work Bank grands US$150mn to accelerate digital transformation

The World Bank has agreed to provide Senegal with US$150mn in financing to support the country’s digital transformation, specifically to improve the legal, regulatory and institutional environment needed to facilitate the digital economy. This includes the development of a resilient broadband infrastructure network with a focus on fibre backbone and last-mile connectivity. The investment will help accelerate the governments Digital Economic Acceleration Project, designed to implement the first Axis of the Emerging Senegal Plan to transform the country into an emerging economy by 2035.

Senegal: Regulator plans national roaming agreement

Senegal’s telecoms regulatory body ARTP plans to introduce national roaming between the country's MNOs Sonatel (Orange Senegal), Free Senegal, Expresso, Canal and Excaf Telecom to improve coverage. Senegal’s President Mackal Sall recently called for the Ministry of Telecommunications and Digital Economy to urgently implement a national mobile network coverage plan, and the ATRP is now in talked with the MNOs to establish the necessary roaming agreements. An assessment to determine whether MNOs are fulfilling the coverage and service requirements in their operating commitments is due to be completed by the end of April.

Senegal: Regulator plans the launch of 5G

Senegal’s telecoms regulatory body the ARTP is preparing to authorise commercial 5G services and is in talks with the country's MNOs to extend existing 4G operating licenses to include 5G networks and services. This comes after Sonatel (Orange Senegal) and Free Senegal successful tested 5G networks last month. Both MNOs had demonstrated a keen interest in offering 5G services, with Sonatel opening an Orange 5G lab in Dakar, the MNOs first facility in Africa.

South Africa: Vodacom, MTN and Cassava invest in network resiliency

Vodacom has committed $661mn per year in its South African network over the next 5 years, upping spending from US$551mn per year in the last 5 years. Cassava technologies also announced plans to invest US$248mn in South Africa through its three subsidies Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Africa Data Centres and Distributed Power Africa. The projects include the expansion of Liquid’s fibre network, Africa Data Centre’s capacity and the rollout of renewable energy. Finally, MTN has upped its investment to US$84mn to install solar panels, batteries and generators while enhancing security features on telecom towers.

This all comes as a response to state energy provider Eskom seeing the worst rolling blackouts on record, resulting in up to 10 hours a day. With loadshedding made worse by the increase in theft and vandalism at telecom sites, network resiliency is becoming even more of a priority


ASIA

Australia: Waveconn hosts new brand launch party

Waveconn, Australia’s third largest towerco, unveiled its new brand at a launch party in Sydney. The towerco, which was formed through OMERS acquisition of Stilmark and TPG Telecoms Tower assets, has a build to suit contract with TPG as part of the deal, and is working on deploying infrastructure for MNOs and other tenants in Australia’s communication landscape.

Cambodia: CellCard parent company plots IPO

CamGSM, which operates under the brand name CellCard in the Cambodian market, has had a listing eligibility review application approved by the Cambodian Securities Exchange. Subject to final approvals CellCard is expected to complete its IPO next month. TowerXchange reported last year that CellCard are carving out its tower business into a new business unit named Telemobile, that will take responsibility for new builds, maintenance, and energy management on CellCard sites. Plans to monetise Telemobile remain unconfirmed.

Malaysia: DNB competitor coming soon?

Sources close to the Malaysian government have told Reuters that 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 a 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.

Philippines: DITO in fundraising mode

The Philippines newest operator DITO is spending far more than it expected to on its greenfield network rollout. After opening credit lines with its holding company and securing several loans, the MNO is still in the red, and seeks to raise additional funds through a variety of methods in 2023. DITO has built over 6000 towers as part of its network deployment, and could see a sale of these assets as a way to deploy capital elsewhere across their deployment. DITO can also be expected to utilise more co-location in the Philippines heading into the second half of 2023, in an attempt to keep their capex costs lower.


MENA

Bahrain: Zain Bahrain expands sustainable network rollout

Zain Bahrain continues its national network expansion programme, bringing 4G and 5G services to seven new areas of the country including Damistan, Hidd, Seef District, Salmabad, Al Hajiyat in Riffa, Al Lawzi, and Qalali. Zain’ CTO Ali Isa Al Yaham commented “we remail committed to investing further in infrastructure and developing our network to serve all residents across the Kingdom. The telco aims to establish a well-connected network that spells the difference in achieving a long-lasting digital transformation”

Alongside continued network expansion, Zain has also partnered with Rental Solutions & Services (RSS) to become Bahrain’s first MNO to deploy on-site hybrid solar + battery solutions to reduce its carbon footprint. As the network expands to new areas outside the national grid and increase energy demands from 5G, Zain plans to install more on-site renewable solutions to its towers in-line with their environmental sustainability strategy.

Jordan: Nokia selected for Zain Jordan’s nationwide 5G rollout

Zain Jordan has appointed Nokie to supply the MNOs 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment as part of a multi-year project to transform the Jordan’s digital infrastructure. Nokia will be deploying the latest generation of AirScale Baseband Systems, MIMO radios and Remove Radio Head products to at least 3,000 sites across the country. Nokia will also be modernising Zain Jordan’s existing 4G infrastructure will testing its 5G network.

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