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Telia to monetise tower assets, expand network-sharing

Telia has put its M&A chief in charge of a new business unit that will house its tower assets and is actively looking for investors for the entity.

The Swedish incumbent has become the latest major European telco to look to make money and cut network costs by selling some or all – is has yet to share full details – of its passive infrastructure. With a similar goal in mind, it is also extending its network-sharing efforts, inking a new deal with Finland’s DNA.

Speaking at the operator’s fourth-quarter results call late last week, Telia chief executive Allison Kirkby promised an update on this infrastructure monetisation plan “very soon.”

For now, what we know is that Telia is transferring a bunch of assets to a separate unit that will seek third-party investment.

“To crystallise and grow the value of our infrastructure assets we have today announced a plan to create a new business unit, Telia Asset Management, that will own and manage selected assets, opening up the opportunity to bring in external investors and accelerate infrastructure development further,” Kirkby said, on the call. She was positioned in front of a slide showing that Telia’s fibre footprint covers 4.5 million homes in five markets, while its towers number around 9,000, plus three times as many sites, in six markets.

“We have for some time been preparing for this and identifying such assets in our portfolio, where a special focus has been on towers in particular in the markets where we act as a challenger – Finland and Norway – and we are now proactively identifying the relevant partners that could join us in this journey,” she said.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that we can expect a passive infrastructure sale from Telia in the near future.

“It is the intention for Andreas Ekström…to oversee this unit, alongside his M&A responsibilities,” Kirkby said.

Ekström has been with Telia for 12 years. He joined the telco as its head of investor relations, but has spent much of his career at the company in an M&A role. It has been a busy place to be in recent months, with Telia announcing the €1.1 billion sale of its international carrier business to pension investment vehicle Polhem Infra in October.

The words Kirkby chose to describe that transaction were markedly similar to her description of the creation Telia Asset Management. “The divestment of Telia Carrier highlights the value Telia has built in its digital infrastructure – and today we are able to crystallise some of that value,” she said, at the time.

With an increased focus on digital services, you could argue that Telia is starting to look more like a TV and media outfit than a telco. And it is supporting itself in those digital ambitions by hiving off high-cost base assets, like network and towers infrastructure, that are particularly attractive to investors due to the reliable, stable returns they provide.

Whether or not Telia is simply looking to flog its towers in Norway and Finland, or its domestic assets too, should become apparent in the coming months. There could be a number of deals in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, speaking of Finland, Telia and DNA have agreed to extend the geographic scope of their Finnish Shared Network, pushing their joint infrastructure in Northern and Eastern Finland further to the south and west. The network will ultimately cover 62.5% of the country’s area and 28.5% of its population, up from 50% of the landmass and 13.5% of the people at present. The network covers 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G technologies and Telia estimates that the cooperation with DNA will speed up its 5G network build in the new area by about a year.

“During its five years of operation, the Finnish Shared Network has brought top quality connections extensively to Northern and Eastern Finland,” said Jari Collin, CTO of Telia Finland. “It is a good idea to expand a well-functioning joint project now as the company starts the construction of a fast 5G network that will accelerate the next industrial revolution.”

It is indeed.

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