Tower Talk: a guide to the latest major cell site developments

1 Nov 2016

Jersey-based infrastructure provider 3i Infrastructure has entered a bid for French tower firm FPS Towers, Reuters writes. FPS’s parent company Antin Infrastructure Partners is hoping to raise up to EUR1 billion (USD1.1 billion) from the sale, which has already attracted interest from around ten bidders including industry heavyweights such as American Tower Corporation (ATC) and Spain’s Cellnex.

Staying with Cellnex, the Barcelona-based operator reported a 15% increase in third-quarter revenue to EUR520 million, whilst adjusted EBITDA for the three-month period to 30 September was up 18% year-on-year to EUR208 million. The first nine months of the 2016, meanwhile, saw the operator add 689 new PoPs through organic growth, and a further 660 through M&A activity, bringing its total to 22,089 at the end of September 2016. Similarly, its average tenancy ratio edged up from 1.53 at end-2015 to 1.58. Cellnex’s portfolio now comprises 8,757 sites in Italy and 7,413 sites in Spain, as well as 725 sites in the Netherlands, and 540 and 230 in the UK and France respectively.

Cellnex has also approached France’s Iliad about renting infrastructure to the company when it launches wireless services in Italy, Reuters quotes Cellnex CEO Tobias Martinez as saying. ‘We’ve introduced ourselves … a new player means new demand in terms of infrastructure so for us Italy right now is very attractive,’ the official said, adding that it was still early days, however, and he did not expect Iliad to start commercial services in Italy until late 2017. Cellnex’s average tenancy ratio stands at 1.3 in Italy, but Mr Martinez notes that there is scope to increase that total to 2.0 in the future by attracting new customers, dismantling duplicated infrastructure and making operations more efficient.

Bharti Infratel, the wireless infrastructure arm of India’s largest cellco by subscribers Bharti Airtel, has booked total revenue of INR32.919 billion (USD492.65 million) for the three months ended 30 September 2016, up from INR30.410 billion a year earlier. EBITDA for the period grew 10.4% y-o-y to INR14.537 billion, whilst EBITDA margin increased by 0.9 percentage points to 44.2%. Net profit for the quarter was INR7.738 billion, an increase of 30.8% from INR5.917 billion in the corresponding period of 2015. As at end-September 2016, Bharti Infratel counted a total of 89,791 towers, including 38,832 that it owns and operates itself, whilst the remainder representing its 42% stake in Indus Towers’ 121,330 sites. The operator reported an average tenancy ratio of 2.21 for its consolidated operations, up from 2.15 a year earlier.

In a related development, Bharti Airtel confirmed in a notice to the local bourse that it has started work on evaluating options to monetise a ‘significant stake’ in Bharti Infratel. No details regarding a potential timeline for the sale, or the size of the stake to be sold off were published.

In India, the local government for Andhra Pradesh is planning to install some 10,000 smart telecom towers across 13 districts in the 2017-2018 financial year, the Economic Times reports, citing the region’s principal secretary to the department of energy, infrastructure and investments, Ajay Jain. Under the plan, the state would install the towers throughout tribal and rural areas as well as cities. To that end, the state has opened a request for proposal (RFP) for a private partner, set to end 15 November 2016. ‘We wanted to complete all the formalities by 31 March 2017 and start construction from next financial year,’ the official added. The programme would see the private partner lease access to the towers to private or government-owned telcos, whilst the state would generate revenue by leasing land to the company.

German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom (DT) has shelved plans to sell off a stake in its mobile towers, Bloomberg cites sources familiar with the matter as saying. According to the sources, DT’s decision was driven by Telefonica’s recent troubles, the Spanish group having recently scrapped a planned initial public offering (IPO) for its infrastructure arm, Telxius. DT is reportedly planning instead to create an internal tower division to manage the group’s roughly 50,000 mobile towers in Europe more efficiently and to boost profitability. The group could pursue a stake sale or an IPO in future, however, the sources said.

In a similar move, Turkish mobile provider Turkcell has postponed the IPO of its wireless infrastructure division Global Tower. The operator said in a statement that it was delaying the sale until ‘markets come to a more secure and stable state’, citing cyber-attacks against popular websites in late October as well as risks relating to the upcoming US presidential election. An analyst for Bloomberg noted, however, that investor appetite had been limited, with confidence in the nation’s assets impaired following an attempted coup in July and possible security risks related to the ongoing war in neighbouring Syria.

Singapore Myanmar Investco (SMI) has agreed to offload its stake in its Myanmar tower business Myanmar Infrastructure Group (MIG) to Hong Kong’s Shining Star International Holdings for USD12.707 million as part of efforts to focus on its ‘highest growth opportunities’ in Myanmar. MIG was established as a joint venture between SMI and Golden Infrastructure Group, and has lease agreements with all three of the nation’s cellcos.

Saudi Arabian cellcos Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) have extended their memorandum of understanding (MoU) to jointly study options for their tower portfolios beyond their original 31 October deadline. Mobily explained in a statement: ‘As discussions of this nature can take time to produce results, the parties have agreed to extend the MoU … The MoU will be automatically extended for consecutive periods of 30 calendar days, unless otherwise agreed between the parties.’

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