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Bharti Airtel to sell mobile phone towers in Tanzania, Malawi

Bharti Airtel’s planned disposal of mobile phone towers in Africa will see it sell masts in Tanzania to Helios Towers, while units in Malawi will go to Eaton Towers, a person with knowledge of the deal said on Wednesday.

Mobile operators such as India’s Bharti have been selling masts to specialist tower firms and leasing them back to cut maintenance costs on a continent with poor access to electricity and shoddy roads.

The Tanzania sale will include about 1,000 towers, said the source, who declined to be identified because the deal has not been concluded. The source did not say how many towers in Malawi would be sold.

Bharti has said it would sell 3,500 towers across six African countries to Eaton, and 3,100 masts in four countries to Helios. It has not given details on the countries involved.

Eaton chief executive Alan Harper declined to comment on the details of the sales, including the countries involved. Helios and Bharti both declined to comment.

“They’ve been signed but the deals haven’t closed yet,” Harper said.

“We’re talking 3,500 towers across six countries so it takes time to move those sorts of transactions forward but we would hope that sort of transaction timeframe would be realistic,” he said when asked whether the transactions would be done by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

Helios, founded by George Soros-backed Helios Investment Partners, says it is Africa’s largest tower firm with over 7,800 towers. Other operators in Africa are American Tower and Lagos-listed IHS.

African mobile use is relatively low and a prime attraction for tower companies is to build new sites to reach uncovered sections and meet rising demand for Internet connectivity.

Several other telecom operators have already offloaded thousands of towers. In September, South Africa’s MTN, sold some 9,100 Nigerian towers to a new joint venture with IHS. The two companies have also had transactions in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Rwanda and Zambia.

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