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Nigerian mobile tower firm IHS plans Middle East expansion

By , Editor, ITWeb Africa
Nigeria , 10 Dec 2012

Nigerian mobile tower firm IHS plans Middle East expansion

Nigerian mobile tower firm IHS Holdings could acquire infrastructure of two telecommunications operators in the Middle East, the company's chief executive officer has said.

IHS has operations in Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire. According to the company, it has built over 2,800 sites and, with an MTN transaction this year, it could increase its sites under management to over 5,500. Moreover, 3,000 of those towers are planned to be owned by IHS.

Leasing towers offers a cheaper way for operators to handle their operating expenses, while selling this infrastructure also opens up additional revenue streams for telecommunications companies.

Frost & Sullivan research last year stated that African operators could save $2 billion over the next 10 years if they choose to lease rather than build towers.

And IHS plans to expand its business outside of Africa by targeting Middle East operators.

"Negotiations are still ongoing, we hope to be able to finalise them in the coming few months," Issam Darwish, IHS chief executive, was quoted in United Arab Emirates newspaper The National.

"It is taking more time than expected," he added.

Darwish declined to identify the Middle East operators. But the newspaper reported that there has been speculation that Etisalat may be one of telecommunications firms. Etisalat, which also has operations in markets such as Nigeria and Egypt, has not commented on the report.

"It hasn't been done before, a lot of them are not in that frame of mind to transition from owning towers to sharing them. That is one of the hurdles we have to get through. I am confident one of the deals will be closed in the next few months. We have been working on it for some time," said Mr Darwish.

Senior telecommunications analyst for Informa Telecoms & Media, Matthew Reed, has told ITWeb Africa that IHS could face challenges in breaking into the Middle East market.

“There has been little if any progress in the sharing of network infrastructure such as towers in the Middle East,” Reed said.

“One factor might be that, as the article suggests, some Middle East operators still see that kind of infrastructure as a strategic asset that they are not keen to open up to rivals,” he added.

Reed said that Middle East operators such as Saudi Arabia’s STC and Mobily have previously been in talks to pool their towers in Saudi Arabia and sell them to a specialist towers company. However, no agreements were reached because the parties could not agree on prices or terms for the deals.

IHS, though, has received an injection of cash that could help it secure more business in the Middle East and Africa.

Earlier this month, IHS raised a $202 million syndicated credit facility from Pan-African financial services company Ecobank Capital. A further $700 million has also been raised from existing shareholders and banks, while the company has this year sold a 25% stake for $125m to European investment firm Wendel..

About $415 million of the capital raised by IHS is planned to be used to acquire MTN Group's 1,757 mobile towers in Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire.

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