Helios readying bid for Airtel’s African towers

Helios Towers Africa is keen to participate in the upcoming sale of Bharti Airtel’s African tower infrastructure – but to do so, the firm needs to raise around $500 million.

The firm currently has the backing of financier George Soros, and is reportedly negotiating a deal with Providence Equity Partners. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and well-known banker Jacob Rothschild have also thrown their weight behind Helios.

Helios’s goal is to encourage tower sharing among operators, enabling them to reduce costs. Currently the company owns over 3,500 towers in Africa.

Airtel has operations in 17 countries across Africa, and its infrastructure sale – which could raise as much as $2 billion, according to the FT - has piqued the interest of many tower firms, including British company Eaton Towers and Nigerian IHS Towers. US-based America Tower is also likely to be interested.

Sunil Mittal, Bharti Airtel’s chairman, recently stated that the company would funnel an additional $1 billion into its African units over the “next few years” at the cost of entering new markets. Despite this, the continent has presented difficulties for Airel; after a $9 billion acquisition to enter the market and almost 4 years, it has not yet made a profit from its African units.

The operator’s international business – predominantly made up of its African operation, but also encompassing its units in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – made a net loss of INR38.8 billion ($650 million) over the past fiscal year. The year before, this figure was INR26.6 billion.

 

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