Airtel Africa moves 4,500 towers to the continent

Airtel tower

Bharti Airtel has brokered several more towers deals that will see it sell off 2,500 towers in Africa to passive infrastructure specialist Helios Towers.

The India-based operator, which provides mobile services across 14 markets in Africa, has agreed to sell its towers portfolio of 1,200 sites in Madagascar and Malawi via separate transactions for a total of US$108 million.

The purchase price will go up by $11 million assuming a further 195 towers that are currently in the pipeline are brought to market over the next three years.

“With these latest tower transactions, we continue to demonstrate strong execution of our asset monetization program,” Raghunath Mandava, CEO of Airtel Africa said.

“Helios Towers has been a partner to our business in some of the OPCOs for many years and we look forward to further expanding this partnership with these new leases as we together seek to improve mobile connectivity and infrastructure across Africa,” he added.

In addition, these transactions will also help to improve the mix of our debt and increase its tenor through long term leases, according to Mandava.

The operator is looking to reduce its $3.5 billion in debt, repayments of which are looming on the horizon.

To do that, Airtel Africa announced last year plans to sell around 4,500 telecoms towers; the towers are spread throughout five countries — Tanzania, Madagascar, Chad, Gabon, and Malawi — and will reportedly be leased back to Airtel after their sale.

Airtel has signed service contracts with Helios for an initial 12-year period, which the towers specialist says will bring it $1.1 billion in future contracted revenue. That revenue pipeline and associated earnings will enhance company stability, noted Kash Pandya, CEO of Helios Towers.

The deal to sell off 2,500 towers in Africa is part of an ongoing program of passive infrastructure divestment across Africa for Bharti Airtel. It has sold portfolios of towers in many markets over the past five years or so, brokering deals with Helios, American Tower, IHS and others.

Telecoms operators in Africa began selling off towers earlier than their European counterparts, although the deals seem to have come in smaller increments, unlike some of the mega-deals we are starting to see in Europe.

Helios is keen to expand its operations in Africa as part of its 2025 strategy, having it agree to pay $142 million for 1,200 sites in Senegal from Xavier Niel-owned Free Senegal last August.