MEA News

A roundup of tower news across SSA and MENA

Bahrain: Regulator issues RFP to examine the rationalisation of the Kingdom’s towers

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Bahrain has issued an RFP to find a partner to organise the Kingdom’s telecom sites. The country, with 3.1mn mobile connections (GSMA Intelligence) has 1500 towers, in a market which estimates suggest requires just 400. Similar to other Middle Eastern markets, a high degree of parallel infrastructure exists with MNOs (in this case Batelco, Zain and Saudi Telecom Company owned Viva) having historically been reluctant to share infrastructure.

Botswana: Botswana’s first towerco licensed

Pula Towers has been granted a license by the Botswana regulator, making it the first independent towerco in the country. Botswana has 3.2mn mobile connections in a market with three MNOs.

Cote d’Ivoire: Cote d’Ivoire reconfigures to a four player market with the award of a new operating license to Libyan backed LPP

After having revoked the operating licenses of GreenN, Comium, Cafe Mobile and Warid Telecom in April 2016, the Cote d’ivorian regulator (ARTCI) has awarded a new license to Libyan owned LPP. Whilst little presence of LPP on the ground has been seen by market insiders, observers suspect that GreenN may be involved in the company. The new MNO will absorb the 450-500 towers previously owned by the four MNOs who had their licenses revoked. LPP join Orange, MTN and Moov to make up the Cote d’Ivoire’s MNO market.

DRC, Liberia: Orange consolidate acquisitions of  Liberia’s Cellcom and the DRC’s Tigo

Orange’s acquisitions Cellcom in Liberia and Tigo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were fully consolidated into the MNO’s business by the end of September. The operator expects the two subsidiaries it has acquired from the Bharti Airtel group in Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone to be consolidated in the 4th quarter. The company now has a presence in 21 countries in the MEA region.

Egypt: Vodafone, Orange and Etisalat join Telecom Egypt as 4G spectrum holders

After having failed to reach an agreement on terms with Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA),  September saw the country’s three incumbent MNOs Orange, Etisalat and Vodafone reject the regulator’s offer to apply for 4G-suitable spectrum. The MNOs have since reached an agreement with the regulator with both Orange and Etisalat acquiring 10MHz of frequencies and Vodafone acquiring 5MHz of frequencies. The three MNOs now join fixed-line incumbent Telecom Egypt as 4G spectrum holders in the country, where mobile broadband penetration sits at 42%

Ghana: NCA trigger regulatory processes to annul Expresso’s operating license

With significant liquidity challenges and having failed to secure investment to fund their operations, Expresso Ghana had just 106,975 mobile voice subscribers and 42,746 mobile data subscribers (0.29% and 0.22% of the country’s total voice and data subscribers) at August 2016 (NCA). Expresso’s inactivity has created a deficit in revenue targets for the government and the regulator and as such, Ghana’s regulator, the National Communications Authority has triggered processes to annul the MNO’s operating license.

Ghana: Helios’ 787 towers up for sale? 

There have been unconfirmed rumours that Helios Towers Africa is looking to sell its 787 Ghanaian towers, with American Tower and Eaton Towers reportedly having submitting bids. Helios entered the Ghanaian market in 2010, forming a joint venture towerco with Millicom, into which 750 sites were transferred (Millicom have subsequently restructured their 40% stake in the opco to a 24% stake at group level, which the MNO is now looking to monetise). American Tower and Eaton Towers boast larger portfolios (2155 and 1200 sites respectively) in Ghana and with strict permitting regulations making its tough to get new towers built, the Helios portfolio presents an attractive opportunity to expand their asset base in the country.

Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Niger: Standard Chartered Private Equity to exit Eaton

Minority shareholder, Standard Chartered Private Equity SCPE) is reportedly looking to exit its investment in Eaton Towers. The firm joined Capital Group Private Markets (Eaton’s original and controlling shareholder) along with Ethos Private Equity in April 2015 as part of Eaton’s latest round of fund raising. Two French funds have are rumoured to have expressed an interest in SCPE’s shares in the towerco.

Iran: Vodafone signs partner market deal and Orange enters discussions with MCI

Orange are the latest international MNO to enter into talks with leading Iranian operator, MCI to acquire a stake in the company which holds around 43% market share in the country. Meanwhile, Vodafone has signed a partnership agreement with Iranian ISP HiWeb to assist the Iranian firm in rolling out its network infrastructure and expanding its fixed and mobile internet services. HiWEB who will now also provide fixed and mobile services to Vodafone’s multinational corporate clients in Iran, is a key candidate to acquire one of the country’s new MVNO licenses. International economic sanctions were lifted on Iran in January of this year, prompting interest from international telecoms community.

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia: Zain move forward with tower sale negotiations

Zain are progressing ahead with the negotiations to sell their 6,800 Saudi and 1,600 Kuwaiti towers with CEO Scott Gegenheimer telling that it had narrowed down offers to two prospective bidders and expected the transaction to close in the first half of this year. A consortium comprised of TASC and AcwaPower are believed to be amongst the frontrunners in Saudi, with Towershare reportedly in exclusive negotiations with the MNO in Kuwait.

Madagascar: Orange expecting to launch 4G by the end of 2016

Orange are expected to launch 4G services before the end of the year, joining market leader TELMA who are in the process of rolling out 4G and optical fibre across the country. Orange, who are also continuing to invest in 3G deployment in the country, are reportedly in talks with TELMA to make use of their optical fibre network to support their 4G network deployment, in a market where mobile broadband penetration sits at just 19% (GSMA Intelligence).

Nigeria: MTN announce extensive network rollout

MTN Nigeria have announced an extensive network rollout which includes the addition of 3G and 4G infrastructure to 7,345 existing towers as well as the addition of 3,904 new sites by the end of 2017. As part of this, IHS (with whom MTN have a joint venture governing 9,038 sites in the country) are known to have been awarded a build-to-suit program involving the addition of 1,650 new towers as well as the addition of approximately 2,000 tenancies to existing sites.

Nigeria: IHS issue a US$800mn high yield corporate bond

IHS’ subsidiary, IHS Netherlands Holdco B.V. which owns 100% of IHS Nigeria Ltd and 100% of IHS Towers NG Limited (formerly known as HTN Towers) issued a US$800mn high yield corporate bond which was listed on the Irish Stock Exchange. The bond has a 2021 maturity and offers a 9.5% coupon. The funds will be used to refinance the debt of IHS Towers NG (formerly known as HTN Towers, which IHS acquired earlier this year) as well as refinance some of the IHS Nigeria’s opco level debt and fund the build of 1,650 new towers as part of MTN Nigeria’s rollout plans.

Nigeria: NCC announces their intent to auction five remaining infraco licences

The Nigerian Communication Commission has announced their intent to auction the five remaining regional infrastructure company (infraco) licences, which allow for the deployment of fibre-optic backbone under the Open Access Model. IHS and MainOne Cable secured the first two infraco licences for the North Central and Lagos State Zones respectively.

Oman: Regulator issues an Information Memorandum on third MNO license application process

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of Oman has issued an Information Memorandum (IM) explaining the pre-qualification criteria and application process to obtain the third MNO operating licence in the Sultanate.  The TRA is keen to increase competition in the country where Omantel and Ooredoo are the two resident MNOs, joined by MVNOs FRiENDi mobile and Renna Mobile. The regulator had previously urged service providers to improve quality of service and bring down costs following an increase in complaints from consumers.

Swaziland: Four companies apply for new mobile license

The Swaziland Communications Commission has revealed that four companies have submitted bids to obtain the new mobile licence being auctioned in the country, with Viettel Group, Orange-backed Mauritius Telecom and locally owned Swazi Mobile and Data Net being the named parties. The Swazi telecoms sector is currently a monopoly with MTN Swaziland being the sole operator in the market having acquired a license back in 1998. There are currently just under a million mobile subscribers in a population of 1.3mn in the country (GSMA Intelligence).

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Telecom Company and Mobily extend JV towerco study

Saudi Telecom Company and Mobily have extended their initial three month agreement to study the formation of a joint venture to manage the two companies’ tower portfolios. The two MNOs had initially initiated and then abandoned tower sales in 2016, with management concerns over the lack of a counterparty with local expertise cited amongst the reasons. Whilst the number of towers to be included in a potential joint venture has yet to be decided, the combined portfolios total over 25,000 towers. Whilst the joint venture is part of a move to bring greater efficiencies to the two networks, active sharing is not included in the current plans.

South Africa: Wireless Business Solutions agree to use 500 Vodacom sites

Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), the parent company of ISP iBurst, have signed an agreement with Vodacom South Africa, whereby under which WBS will use Vodacom’s high sites. TechCentral writes that the WBS is expected to have 500 sites active on Vodacom facilities by March 2017, with that number set to reach 5,000 by 2020.

Tanzania: Local listing requirements holding up Airtel’s tower sale to American Tower

The sale of Airtel’s 1350 Tanzanian sites to American Tower which was announced in March is yet to close. In June of this year, Tanzania’s National Assembly ordered all telecom companies in country to float a 25% stake on the Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange (DSE), an order which would also apply to American Tower and thus significantly alter the economics of the transaction. Negotiations are still ongoing in the country.

Zimbabwe: New regulations gazetted to compel operators to share infrastructure

The government of Zimbabwe has gazetted new regulations which give the country’s regulator the Postal and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) the power to compel the country’s three MNOs to share their infrastructure. Econet Wireless who have invested over US$1.2mn on network rollouts in the past five years and who own 1380 of the country’s 2700 towers, have been against the move, arguing that it unfairly benefits state-backed competitors NetOne and Telecel. The government argues that reducing capex spend through the sharing of existing infrastructure will ultimately lead to reduced costs for the consumer. In anticipation of such regulation, Econet Wireless has created a dedicated infrastructure unit, EcoTowers whilst fixed line incumbent, TelOne has pooled its network equipment with other fixed line players with a view to extending infrastructure to MNOs in the market.

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