x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mobile tower owner IHS Holding still seeking foothold in Middle East

Recurring political instability in Egypt and a lack of interest from the Arabian Gulf region has prevented the Nigerian mobile tower company IHS Holding from expanding in the Middle East.

Recurring political instability in Egypt and a lack of interest from the Arabian Gulf region has prevented the Nigerian mobile tower company IHS Holding from expanding in the Middle East.

The company, based in Lagos, specialises in acquiring mobile transmission towers and leasing them back to multiple telecoms operators.

"Negotiations in the Middle East are still ongoing, but taking more time than we thought," said Issam Darwish, the chief executive. "Decision-making has slowed down. We were considering several deals in North Africa."

High mobile penetration in the GCC especially means telecoms players have already built enough sites and are less reluctant to give up control of them.

"The mentality of regulators is different, but the business fundamentals are the same. Issues that exist in Africa like lack of power and security do not exist in the Gulf area, but sharing is still a good thing - it can consolidate the cost of towers," said Mr Darwish.

Tower sharing would enable greater competition and pave the way for non-owner operators to compete more efficiently.

While negotiations in the Middle East with two operators have slowed down, Mr Darwish is confident that the company will secure some of the towers. The landscape is different in Africa, where IHS is the continent's largest independent mobile infrastructure provider.

The company has 8,500 sites with plans to attain more than 20,000 in the next two to three years. Over the past 12 months, IHS has secured US$1 billion in funding. Most recently it secured $522 million of debt and equity to fund its continued expansion across Africa.

The funding will also be used to finance the construction of more than 1,000 towers in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon as well as investment in solar and energy efficient solutions.

There are about 200,000 mobile tower sites in Africa, of which up to half will be sold or commercialised in the next two years, according to Mr Darwish.

"Getting another 15,000 is not a problem, we have tripled in our size over the past one year, so I think we can achieve that," said Mr Darwish. "We want to be in an additional three countries in the short to medium term."

 

thamid@thenational.ae