Sub-Saharan Africa news

A roundup of tower news across SSA

Regional: Eaton to be acquired by American Tower

American Tower will add Eaton Towers’ 5,510 towers to its global holdings of over 170,000 sites following the announcement of a US$1.85bn acquisition deal, with a per tower value of US$336k. Eaton Towers owns 1,420 sites in Ghana, 1,460 in Uganda, 1,320 in Kenya, 640 in Niger and 670 in Burkina Faso. American Tower will enter Niger and Burkina Faso for the first time, but the deal will lead to consolidation in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda where both American Tower and Eaton are already active. The deal is expected to close before the end of Q4 2019, subject to the usual closing conditions and regulatory approvals. See the full deal analysis on the TowerXchange website.

Regional: Airtel Africa IPO to go ahead 

Bharti Airtel is planning a listing of its African division, with a proposal submitted for an initial public offering to the London Stock Exchange (LSE). Airtel will attempt to raise US$1bn in the IPO. The company has appointed JP Morgan, Citigroup, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Absa Group, Barclays Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, Goldman Sachs and Standard Bank as advisers. An earlier injection of funding from private backers reduced Airtel Africa’s net debt from US$7.7bn last year to $4 billion in March. Airtel may also list on Nigeria’s Stock Exchange. Airtel Africa operates in 14 African countries and generated turnover of US$3.1bn in the year to end-March 2019, from 98.9mn mobile subscribers, including 30.0mn data users. The turnaround in financial position places Airtel Africa in a significantly improved position to deploy capital into increasing coverage and upgrading networks as demand for 3G and 4G in its African markets grows.

Regional: New ESCO contracts in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Conakry

Continuing in its strategy of out-sourcing its tower power management to ESCOs, Orange has added two new contracts in Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry. This brings to six its total of ESCO deals in addition to DRC, Niger, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. TowerXchange understands the deal includes the potential for providing power beyond towers to include Orange retail outlets in areas without reliable grid availability. 

Regional: Listings for Ugandan and Nigerian units likely 

MTN is considering increasing the local stake in its Ugandan subsidiary after pressure from the Ugandan government to boost local shareholding. MTN Nigeria is also likely to float on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in the first half of 2019, with a plan to boost private Nigerian ownership in the company from 20% to 35%. 

Angola: Fourth license awarded, cancelled and re-opened to applicants in April  

Telstar Telecomunicações, a local start-up was awarded and stripped of Angola’s fourth mobile license in April. Originally seeing interest from 27 domestic and foreign companies, the mobile license competition ended with just two applicants. Less than two weeks after the award of the license Telstar’s award was cancelled because of “non-compliance with the terms of the procedure, the requirements relating to the balance sheet and profit and loss statements, and the statement of overall turnover for the last three years.” The license competition has since been relaunched. 

Burkina Faso: 4G a gogo in the Sahel 

Orange has extended its LTE services in Burkina Faso, it was announced in April. Orange’s 4G srrvices now reach Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, Koudougou, Koubri, Banfora and Manga. Shortly after Orange’s announcement, Maroc Telecom-owned Onatel finalised its acquisition of a 4G licence and launched its services, which it claims is available in 35 locations. 4G roll-out will require significant new investments in Burkina Faso’s urban areas.

Central Africa: Alma IT orders Flexenclosure’s eSite x10 for rollout in Central Africa

Alma IT, a telecom and IT-focused infrastructure and services provider, has placed an  order for 100 Flexenclosure eSite x10 telecom site power systems.  The Site x10s will be used to power sites on unreliable grid connections for a mobile telecommunications provider in Central Africa. eSite x10 is the world’s first power system purpose-built for outdoor telecom sites and to outdoor telecom standards.  In order to optimise the performance of each and every site, Alma IT will be using eSite’s built-in remote management system – eSite Tools. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopian regulatory framework passed 

After being delayed from the Monday, the draft regulatory proclamation become law on the 13th June. The framework established by the new law enables the creation of a regulatory, the writing of regulations and the issuance of new unified licenses, allowing the long-awaited entry of outside MNOs to Ethiopia. Auctions for new licenses are expected for September 2019, with new networks to be constructed and live during 2020.  

Ghana: 4G and 4G+ launched b Vodafone and MTN

Vodafone Ghana launched 4G services in Accra on the 19th March. At the same time MTN Ghana launched its 4G+ services which provide faster data speeds for its customers. The advanced 4G networks have been much anticipated in the state, and further investment in densification to service increased data demand is expected. 

Nigeria: Safaricom to double 4G sites by March 2020

Safaricom expects to invest over US$351mn to double its 4G network coverage to 5,000 sites by March 2020. The large majority of these sites will be on existing Safaricom sites, and many will require reinforcing to enable to addition of extra antennae. This will extend 4G coverage to all major towns and 80% of the country’s population. The announced expansion follows the merger of the number two and three MNOs in Kenya, Airtel and Telkom, as well as a period of sustained erosion in Safaricom’s market share, falling from 71.9% in September 2017 to 63.3% today.

Kenya: New operator enters concentrated Kenyan market

Kenyan operator Jamii Telecommunications has extended its temporary 4G LTE license to a full operating license for its Faiba brand. ‘Jamii Telecom has already paid the first instalment and it is no longer on a trial license,’ confirmed CA Director General Francis Wangusi. A change to spectrum payments, allowing for payment in instalments rather than an upfront lump-sum has enabled Jamii to enter the market, and may enable further new entrants. Following the Airtel-Telkom merger, over 95% of Kenya’s mobile users will be served by just MNOs. 

Namibia: Slow and steady roll-out of MTC sites continue 

As part of the plans to erect 524 new sites in MTC’s “081Every1” programme, new towers have been erected in Uutsathima, Onamatanga and Ehafo to improve access to mobile internet in rural areas. Another twelve network sites are planned by Namibia’s number one MNO in the Kavango West, Otjozondjupa, Omaheke, Kharas, Hardap, Omusati and Oshikoto regions, they are scheduled to go live imminently. 

Nigeria: 7,000 Globacom towers at risk of dismantling by Civil Aviation Authority 

On the 23rd April the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) issued an ultimatum to Globacom Limited and other unnamed mobile operators that many of their towers may be pulled down. Claiming that the operator had “blatantly failed to obtain the statutory Aviation Height Clearance” permits, the NCAA gave the operator 30 days to resolve the situation to their satisfaction. Following a series of interventions and meetings from the regulators a significant number of Nigeria’s 40,000+ towers have received the NCAA permits, although Globacom was singled out for particular censure. It remains to be seen what action will be taken following the expiration of the deadline on the 23rd May.

Mozambique: New unified license paves way for network expansion 

Following the long-awaited merger of Mozambican Telecommunications (TDM) and Mozambique Cellular (mCel), the new combined company, Tmcel, has been awarded a unified license by the Communications Regulatory Authority of Mozambique. The unified license allows Tmcel to provide services regardless of the technology used and relaxes rules around spectrum and numbering. A Tmcel executive Mohamed Jusob said the operator “is committed to be, within the next four years, the largest and best telecommunications company in the country.” Given the disparity between sites that would involve a combination of nearly 2,000 new towers or co-locations by 2023.

South Sudan: MTN bet on recovery in the world’s youngest country 

MTN is planning on investing US$35 in expanding its operations in South Sudan. With the five year civil war hopefully drawing to a close, it is hoped that the revival of transmission networks, expanded coverage and 3G upgrades will help recover in the central African state. The move will more than double the number of active sites in the country, from 200 to around 410. According to GSMA only 14% of South Sudan’s 13.1mn people are connected. MTN and Zain of Kuwait are the country’s only two MNOs. 

Tanzania: Airtel puts its towers up for sale 

Despite its planned IPO, Airtel Africa issued a notice in mid-May requesting expressions of interest for its 1,400 towers in Tanzania, the deadline was May 17. This is Airtel’s most attractive remaining portfolio, much coveted relative to its towers in Chad, Gabon, Madagascar and Malawi. It is unclear how the east African tower sale will interact with the planned IPO in London.   

Uganda: MTN Uganda roll-out rural sites 

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), in partnership with MTN, launched 22 new 3G sites in rural areas. The sites were funded by the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF) at UCC and were built in association with MTN at sites which wouldn’t otherwise be economically viable. Some existing base stations were upgraded from 2G to 3G while others have newly been built to deliver 3G connectivity. The RCDF is now focused on broadband rollout and 3G, where prior rounds had focused on using 2G to expand access to underserved areas. The RCDF contributed US$800k subsidy towards these upgrades, the RCDF is funded through license payments from Ugandan MNOs. 

Uganda: UCC consults on making infrastructure sharing mandatory

A public consultation has been launched by the Uganda Communications Commission into a review of the country’s Telecommunications Licensing Framework. The current framework has been in place since 2006 and is no longer appropriate given the proliferation of telecoms players in the country today. The consultation has requested submissions around increased infrastructure sharing and highlights its benefits. It continues: “Providing for mandatory infrastructure sharing as a license obligation could potentially curb duplication in high demand areas and encourage parity of infrastructure building across the country.”

Zimbabwe: Econet Wireless and NetOne to share towers 

Zimbabwe’s number one and number two MNOs, Econet and NetOne have signed a network sharing agreement. The terms of the agreement have not been released, but the agreement will allow both networks to expand their networks while minimising additional capex. Zimbabwe’s three MNOs deployed only 75 new sites in 2018, and with the economic situation remaining fraught, infrastructure sharing remains the best option for network expansion.

Zimbabwe: Telecoms privatisation to ease financial constraints on cash-strapped state

It was reported at the end of April that Zimbabwe’s government was planning on selling shares in mobile network operators NetOne and Telecel, plus a share of the fixed-line operators TelOne. TelOne and NetOne may be merged before sale, in an attempt to improve their attractiveness to overseas investors. The deal is hoped to raise US$350mn.

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