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Three could become the latest telco to cash in on its towers

Selling or spinning off towers is de rigueur among European telcos these days, and it looks like Three UK doesn’t want to be left out.

A Telegraph report (paywall) over the weekend claimed that the mobile operator wants to cash in on its infrastructure, and therefore may sell off hundreds of the city-centre rooftop masts that were acquired when it bought fixed-wireless provider UK Broadband in 2017.

Furthermore, unnamed sources claimed Three is interested in exiting MBNL – the network-sharing joint venture with EE that operates most of Three’s macro sites – so it can offload those assets too. Spain-based towerco Cellnex, which this time last year acquired UK counterpart Arqiva’s telecoms business, has been named as a potential buyer.

Until recently, Cellnex was by far Europe’s largest telecoms tower provider, with a footprint of more than 60,000 sites. But major multinational telcos have woken up to the opportunity to turn a tidy profit from towers, not the least of which is Vodafone.

The UK-based operator has spun off its European towers into a new subsidiary, Vantage Towers, and merged its Italian and Greek footprints with Telecom Italia’s INWIT infrastructure arm and Wind Hellas respectively. The upshot is, Vantage Towers now boasts around 68,000 sites, giving it a number one or number two position in nearly nine markets. That footprint excludes the UK, where similarly to Three, Vodafone’s towers are wrapped up in a network-sharing venture with O2, called Cornerstone.

Vantage Towers intends to float on the Frankfurt stock exchange next year, and to that end on Monday Vodafone nominated Rüdiger Grube to be its towerco’s first chairman. Grube has served as CEO of German train company Deutsche Bahn, and has also served as chairman of aircraft maker Airbus. He has also held several roles at car maker Daimler.

“This milestone represents a further important step in our creation of Europe’s leading tower infrastructure company as we prepare Vantage Towers for an IPO in early 2021 and unlock value for our shareholders,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in a statement.

Meanwhile, furher afield in India, Indus Towers – in which Vodafone Idea holds a significant stake – made progress on Monday with its merger with Bharti Infratel. The deal was subject to the approval by Vodafone Idea’s lenders of a package of financial guarantees offered by Vodafone Idea. That approval has now been given.

All of that means, Indus Towers and Bharti Infratel are a step closer to creating the largest towerco in the world outside of China, with a whopping 163,000 sites.

Back to Europe again, and TIM on Monday announced it has finalised a deal that will plough fresh investment into its infrastructure arm INWIT. The deal will see a consortium led by French private equity firm Ardian take a 49 percent stake in Daphne 3, a newly-established holding company that controls 30.2 percent of INWIT. TIM will own the remaining 51 percent.

“The investment in Daphne 3 represents the first step of a long-term partnership between TIM and Ardian, aimed at strengthening the leadership of INWIT on the Italian telecommunications market, leveraging the growth of data traffic and the new opportunities arising from the implementation of 5G,” said TIM in a statement.

With all the deals to be done and money seemingly to be made, it is little wonder that Three reportedly wants to get in on the act.


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