x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

IHS closes in on acquiring Middle East mobile towers

Nigerian mobile infrastructure company IHS Holding is close to acquiring the mobile towers of two operators in the Middle East, according to the company's chief executive.

Nigerian mobile infrastructure company IHS Holding is close to acquiring the mobile towers of two operators in the Middle East, according to the company's chief executive.

"Negotiations are still ongoing, we hope to be able to finalise them in the coming few months," said Issam Darwish, the chief executive. "It is taking more time than expected."

Mr Darwish declined to identify the operators, but there has been speculation that Etisalat may be one of them. Etisalat was unavailable for comment.

"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.

The landscape is different in Africa where IHS is the continent's largest independent mobile infrastructure provider.

"The African regulators are really pushing the envelope. The regulators in Nigeria encourage tower sharing. In Kenya the spectrum for 4G was not issued to operators, but an infrastructure company," said Mr Darwish.

The incentive to sell off mobile towers in the Middle East is limited, according to Mr Darwish.

"Many of the Middle East operators are state-backed and many of these markets are not truly open and competitive," said Mr Darwish. "It [tower-sharing] would pave the way for more healthy competition, MVNOs and to compete efficiently."

Earlier this month, IHS raised a US$202 million (Dh742m) syndicated credit facility from Ecobank Capital and a further $700m was raised from existing shareholders and banks, while the company sold a 25 per cent stake for $125m to European investment firm Wendel in October to finance its pan-African and Middle East growth plan.

About $415m of the capital raised will be used to acquire MTN Group's 1,757 mobile towers in Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire. In the past 11 years, IHS has built more than 2,800 sites and managed over 5,700 mobile towers, of which it owns 3,000.

thamid@thenational.ae