Telstra shake-up will see towers put on the block

Never one to do things by halves, Australian incumbent Telstra is doing it by thirds instead, via a major restructuring that will divide the company into three separate legal entities.

Two of the subsidiaries – InfraCo Fixed and InfraCo Towers – will own and operate the telco’s fixed and passive mobile infrastructure respectively. The third – ServeCo – will control its spectrum and active mobile network infrastructure, and be responsible for developing, launching and operating services. Telstra said it aims to complete the process by December 2021.

In a statement on Thursday, CEO Andrew Penn described the shake-up as “one of the most significant in Telstra’s history and the largest corporate change since privatisation.”

Like many of its peers, Telstra is keen to maximise the value of its towers, as investments in 5G coverage and capacity gather pace, driving demand for cell sites. In addition, the pandemic accelerated the growth of home working and learning, and digitalisation in general, putting networks under pressure.

With these trends in mind, Penn said Telstra will soon begin looking for minority investors in InfraCo Towers.

“The proposed restructure of our organisation provides us the optionality and opportunity to better realise the value of our infrastructure assets and, in an evolving and competitive market, helps us focus on continuing to provide the best experience to our customers,” he said.

“Telstra intends to start seeking investment from third parties while maintaining control of our strategic towers and preserving our competitive differentiation for Telstra’s mobile business. We anticipate this will begin in 2021 and will follow a similar timeline to the rest of the restructuring process,” he added.

The overhaul falls under Telstra’s T22 transformation plan, which aims to simplify the company’s structure and product offerings; separate its infrastructure assets; and save money, of course.

So far, Telstra has lowered the number of consumer and small business plans on offer, and in fiscal year 2020 it carried out 71 percent of consumer and small business service transactions via digital channels, up from 53 percent in FY2019. It also saved A$1.8 billion between FY2016 and FY2020, and is on track to save A$2.5 billion by FY2022.

On Thursday it once again confirmed its FY2021 guidance of returning to underlying EBITDA growth by FY2022, achieving a range of A$7.5-A$8.5 billion by the year after.

“Our board and management team understands the importance of achieving EBITDA in this range and the actions required to deliver it,” Penn said.

Indeed, meeting that aforementioned savings target means redundancies next year as Telstra continues to put more emphasis on digital sales and customer service channels.

In the meantime, Telstra continues to push hard on 5G. Penn said there are currently more than 400,000 5G devices connected to its network; this figure is expected to reach 750,000 by the end of December. In terms of population coverage, its 5G network reaches 12 million people, courtesy of 2,250 sites.

“Our mobile business continues to perform strongly relative to our competition,” Penn said. “Our clear lead in 5G means we have the opportunity to capitalise on a new multi-year cycle of growth and our transacting minimum monthly commitment has continued to grow in FY21.”

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