Sub-Saharan Africa news

A roundup of tower news across SSA

Regional: Helios Towers IPOs at 115p a share

Helios Towers’ Initial Public Offering (IPO) went ahead on the 15thOctober on the London Stock Exchange. The company’s shares were priced at 115p, at bottom end of the initial range of 115-145p, raising US$317mn. Shareholders, including Millicom and Airtel, were keen to realise their investments in the towerco after an IPO was delayed last year. Helios is set for a market capitalisation of US$1.45bn.

Regional: MTN selling towerco shares to American Tower

At the time of the release of the 2019 Q3 results, American Tower revealed they were in advanced discussions with MTN Group to acquire its shares of ATC Ghana and ATC Uganda. The joint ventures were set up during MTN’s sale and leaseback with American Tower for MTN Group to retain share of ownership of their sites, while releasing financing and outsourcing tower management. Assuming the closing of the Eaton transaction, American Tower will acquire full ownership of the local towercos in the first quarter of 2020.

Regional: MTN Group working with Vanu for off-grid sites

MTN Group will be building 200 rural sites across its footprint using OpenRAN technology from Vanu as part of MTN’s rapid rural roll-out programme, covering 5,000 sites.

Regional: Airtel 4G boost in Chad, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania 

Airtel Africa acquired additional spectrum in three of its markets, Nigeria, Chad and Malawi. Airtel Africa is also poised to turn on its LTE service in Tanzania. By the end of 2020 98% of Airtel Africa sites should be 3G and they are aiming for 4G on 80% of sites.

Angola: New towers, new operators

A “sub-concession” on Angola Telecom’s mobile licence will allow Angorascom Telecomunicacoes to offer mobile services as the country’s third mobile network. Angorascom is a subsiduary of Orascom. This new MNO is in addition to the ongoing tender for a fourth operator licence. Angola Telecom has also had a new board appointed in preparation for privatisation. The new board is led by Adilson Miguel dos Santos as its new CEO. The government plans to sell a 45% stake in the telephone operator which will enable it to begin offering mobile services through its “unified licence.” A fourth unified licence is due to be issued soon with a deadline for applications of 8 November announced by the regulator. In response to Angola’s warming market, Angola’s only towerco ANTOSC has also won a contract to build and operate 500 new cell towers.

Benin: 213 new sites planned in Benin by MTN and Ericsson

MTN Benin will work with Ericsson to expand and modernise its network in a US$120mn deal. 853 existing sites will be upgraded to 3G and 4G, and 213 new sites will be deployed. 3G coverage will expand to 97%, on 1,066 sites, with 4G LTE covering 61% of the country via 503 sites.

Ethiopia: Consultation process launched to accelerate licensing process

Ethiopia’s reform process continues apace, with the regulator still insisting unified licences can be issued before the end of March. Safaricom’s interim CEO Michael Joseph has suggested licences and spectrum could cost US$1bn. 22 companies have shown an interest in Ethiopia’s new concessions in the telecommunications market. A shortlist of eight to nine companies are expected to receive a request for proposals by December, following a consultation due to close on the 22ndNovember.

Gabon: Gabon Telecom testing 5G in Libreville

A 5G testing network is being tried at three sites in Libreville by Maroc Telecom’s Gabon Telecom. Gabon is one of Africa’s most progressive telecoms markets, but a commercial 5G launch is still some years away.

Kenya: Airtel-Telkom merger gets green light in Kenya

The merger of Airtel Kenya and Telkom Kenya has been approved by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Competition Commission (COMESA). The watchdog ruled that “the merger was not likely to substantially lessen competition in the common market or any part of it.” The merger will leave Kenya with just two MNOs, Safaricom and Airtel-Telkom.

Niger: Niger Orange opco sold to local-backed Zamani Com

Following a period of financial difficulties, Orange Group confirmed it was looking into a sale of its Niger opco. The country’s Council of Ministers now confirmed that Zamani Com will be acquiring Orange along with its global licence and spectrum. Zamani Com is reportedly associated with local businessmen Mohamed Rhissa Ali and Moctar Thiam. Orange Niger has a tower sharing deal with Eaton Towers, soon to transfer to American Tower, and an ESCO contract with Camusat’s Aktivco.

Nigeria: Spectrum ready for 5G trials

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has reserved spectrum in the 26GHz, 38GHz and 42GHz bands for 5G networks. This is to enable a rollout of 5G services in 2020, if operators want to deploy the new technology.

Nigeria: 9mobile continues network roll-out despite ownership questions

Africa Finance Corporation will lend US$230mn to MNO 9mobile. The money will be used to honour existing debts, finance its opex and invest in growth. 9mobile, which went through major restructuring in 2017/18 following defaults, is the fourth largest mobile operator in Nigeria with 9.3% of mobile subscribers, and a presence on around 3,500 towersin Nigeria, about two thirds of which belong to IHS Towers. 9mobile, formally Etisalat Nigeria, is working with Clear Blue Technologies and Raeanna Nigeria to roll-out 100 off-grid hybrid energy sites in 2020 to expand its voice and data services in urban and suburban areas of the country.

Madagascar: Telma plans 2,000 sites with Ericsson

Telma has awarded a four-year network upgrade deal worth almost US$100mn to Ericsson. As well as core network upgrades, the deal includes the deployment of 2,000 mobile sites to complete Telma’s network footprint. The deal also has space for ‘4.5G’ and 5G sites in urban areas.

Mozambique: TMCEL to launch 4G by year end

The third Mozambican MNO is expected to launch 4G by the end of this year. TMCEL, formed from the merger of mcel and TDM, will launch LTE-based services by the end of November, following Vodacom and Movitel. TMCEL will initially launch LTE in Maputo and Matola, before a nationwide rollout.  Mozambique currently claims 85% coverage for telecoms services even after the destruction of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth.

South Africa: ICASA publishes spectrum plan for 4G/5G, including WOAN details

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has published a memo explaining its plan for licensing 4G and 5G spectrum in South Africa. All options being reviewed include the controversial inclusion of a wholesale open-access network (WOAN) to provide a new mobile network in South Africa. The spectrum not assigned to the WOAN is to be auctioned. Winners of the spectrum auctions will be obligated to give the OWAN wholesale access to their passive and active infrastructure on reasonable terms. In turn, the WOAN to ensure that it provisions wholesale services around the country Including roaming, access to MVNOs, and wholesale mobile data services in a non-discriminatory and transparent manner.

South Africa: Vodacom could shut down 2G to release spectrum

Starved of spectrum, South African mobile operator Vodacom plans to deactivate its 2G voice services. Andries Delport said the 2G network will not shut down completely as the technology is still used by emergency services and for other applications but switching of voice over 2G will free bands of spectrum for use in 3G and 4G services.

South Africa: Cell C in trouble

Embattled mobile operator Cell C continues to take extreme measures to stave off collapse. Blue Label Telecoms has written off its 45% stake in the operator, as it prepares to put core parts of its business up for sale to reduce its debt. Cell C’s fibre network and base of billed customers are now up for sale, and some spectrum may also be offloaded to rival MTN Group. The asset sale has reportedly attracted interest from MTN, Vodacom Group and Telkom. Cell C has signed a deal with MTN to gain more access to its network through on extended roaming deal as it plans to exit the mobile network business. Cell C sold their towers to American Tower in 2010 and are their largest tenant in South Africa.

South Africa: 5G live in South Africa as Rain launches commercial fixed-wireless

Rain has launched a commercial fixed-wireless 5G broadband service ZAR1,000 (US$68) per month in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The operator will expand to Cape Town, Durban and other cities in 2019/20. The network operates in the 3.6GHz frequency band. This is the first commercial 5G network in Africa apart from Vodacom’s small 5G roll-out in Lesotho.

Tanzania: Smart exits, Vodafone expands LTE

Smart Telecom has shut down its mobile operations in Tanzania and sold most of its remaining towers, although TowerXchange understands a few towers are still retained and Smart is looking for a buyer. On the other hand, Vodacom Tanzania has plans to roll out 4G to Zanzibar over the next year.

Zimbabwe: 100 rural sites planned by Zimbabwean USF

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe has invited bids for the deployment of 100 towers and base stations in rural areas. The rollout is financed by the Universal Services Fund (USF), with the base stations to be shared by the country’s three MNOs, Econet Wireless, NetOne and Telecel.Each base station is to cost between US$400K and US$500K, dependent on location.

Zimbabwe: Fixed-wireless launch to increase demand for network sharing

TelOne, Zimbabwe’s fixed line operator, is considering launching an LTE-based home internet service. Because TelOne holds a mobile licence but does not currently have its own network, the internet service would require sharing the towers of network of another operator. Economic instability combined with capex and opex pressure have seen all Zimbabwe’s mobile operators explore further infrastructure sharing options.

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