Bharti Airtel
Burkina Faso
Cell C
Democratic Republic of Congo
East Africa
Eaton Towers
Helios Towers
IHS Towers
Ivory Coast
Orange and MTN
Ralph Mupita
South Africa
Sunil Bharti Mittal

Telcos sell off towers in Africa to improve balance sheets

So far, there have been tower sales deals worth more than $6 billion across the continent as telecommunications try to cut costs by divesting from infrastructure to focus on service delivery.

This disclosure came as Indian telecommunications giant Bharti Airtel, which has sold off its tower business on the continent, said that it will be listing a quarter of its African operations to raise $1.5 billion as it seeks to reduce its debt load of $14.6 billion.

The ATC deal, which is expected to be completed in the first half of this year, will give the multinational a presence in Kenya, nearly a decade after making its foray into East Africa through similar acquisitions in Uganda and Tanzania.

In East Africa, Tanzania has the highest number of towers at 8,800, followed by Kenya at 6,800, Uganda with 3,485 towers and Rwanda at 1,600, data from TowerXchange, an association of the world towers sector shows.

The sale of the towers was one of the reasons the telecom giant’s losses in Africa narrowed to $91 million in September 2016, compared with  $170 million during the same period in 2015, with revenues of $3.4 billion, or 1 per cent increase.

In 2016, the telecom booked a $2 billion revenue from the sale of its 8,300 towers in the nine African countries, including in Kenya and Rwanda, while the agreement to sell towers in four other countries lapsed. This was part of its 14,000 towers on the continent, with the proceeds used in settling part of its $13 billion debt.

“We have constituted a committee to look into this tower divestment issue. We have received offers, we don’t know whether we want to sell minority or take up a controlling share. The committee will go through the proposition and make a recommendation. We will then make a decision,” Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said at the time.

In an ideal setup, the tower operators manage the workers at these sites who include drivers, security guards and maintenance workers, while the telecommunication firms that rent the towers — which can house up to three tenants — then install their base stations.

For the mobile operators, outside of an immediate cash injection benefit of tower sale, the option of having a shared telecoms infrastructure offers improved operating and capital efficiency, reduced costs, increased accessibility and better network quality of service for users.

Outside of Kenya, ATC manages 1,700 towers in South Africa, which it bought out from Eaton and Cell C; 4,800 towers in Nigeria and 1,305 in Tanzania sold by Airtel, 1,000 towers in Uganda and 1,876 towers in Ghana it purchased from MTN.

Helios Towers, which in March said it was looking at raising $2 billion through an IPO on the London and Johannesburg stockmarkets, now operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1,676 towers), Congo Brazaville (394 towers), Tanzania (3,800 towers) and Ghana (750 towers), whichit purchased from Airtel, Vodacom and Millicom/Tigo and Zantel.

Eaton Towers has operations in Uganda where it handles 700 masts it bought from Warrid and Orange. It also bought 750 towers from Vodafone in Ghana. It also struck a deal with Airtel in 2016 to buy 2,500 towers in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Burkina Faso.

The tower firm also has 2,382 towers in Rwanda and Zambia it bought from Airtel and MTN; and 3,757 towers in Cameroon and Ivory Coast that it bought from Orange and MTN.

Last month, Johannesburg listed MTN, which owns a 29 per cent stake in IHS Towers, said through its chief finance officer Ralph Mupita that it was looking selling out its stake upon the issuance of an IPO by valuing its stake at $2.3 billion.

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