Bharti Airtel scraps sale of African tower assets to Helios
Reuters | Photo Credit: Sunil Mittal

Sunil Mittal-controlled Bharti Airtel Ltd has cancelled the deal with Africa-focused PE firm Helios Towers Africa (HTA) to sell telecom tower assets in Tanzania and Chad, according to a stock market disclosure.

The company did not share any details but said that the sale agreement lapsed and therefore stands terminated. It did not say what the status of the towers is in the other two countries, which were part of the deal.

In July 2014, Airtel had announced that it will divest 3,100 telecoms tower assets spread across four countries to Helios Towers Africa to deleverage the balance sheet and to focus on its core business and customers.

The asset sale and leaseback agreement (which allows it to keep using the towers) was part of the overall strategy of the company to sell off its 15,000 towers to independent tower companies in the continent.

Last December, the firm had separately signed a deal with Nigeria-based telecommunications infrastructure group IHS Holding Ltd to sell over 1,100 telecom towers in Zambia and Rwanda.

This comes one month after it sold over 4,800 communication towers in Nigeria to NASDAQ-listed American Tower Corp for $1.05 billion.

Before that, it had signed an agreement for the divestment of over 3,500 telecom towers spread across six African countries to Eaton Towers, an independent telecom tower company in Africa.

Helios Tower Africa is owned by a consortium of investors, including Africa-focused PE firm Helios Investment Partners and International Finance Corporation (IFC). The firm acquires, builds and manages telecom infrastructure, leasing it to operators in Africa. At present, Helios Tower Africa operates in Ghana, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If the deal with Bharti Airtel went through, it could have increased Helios Tower Africa’s coverage in Africa to over 7,800 owned towers.

Airtel had entered the African market in 2010 after acquiring Zain Telecom's business in the continent for about $10.7 billion, in the second biggest overseas buy by an Indian firm. The company now offers services in 17 African countries but is yet to turn profitable.

Bharti Airtel's shares were trading at Rs 429.40 each, up 1.97 per cent on BSE in a strong Mumbai market on Thursday at 1.21 PM.

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