Bharti Airtel Ltd has agreed to sell its telecom towers in Democratic Republic of Congo to Africa-focused private equity firm Helios Towers Africa for an undisclosed amount, as India’s largest telecom operator continues to divest some assets to cut its $12.6 billion debt pile.
The company will sell about 950 towers as also towers under construction in the African country, it said in a stock market disclosure.
Billionaire Sunil Mittal-controlled Bharti Airtel has been struggling to reduce its debt that ballooned after its $9 billion acquisition of Kuwaiti telecom operator Zain’s Africa assets in 2010 and spectrum auctions at home. The company had net debt of Rs 83,888 crore ($12.6 billion) at the end of March 2016.
As part of the Congo deal, Bharti will have full access to the towers from Helios Towers under a long-term lease. For Helios Towers, the Congo deal will expand its coverage in Africa to more than 6,500 owned towers.
“The agreement is in line with our stated philosophy of divesting passive infrastructure and promoting sharing of towers to enhance operational efficiencies that will further the growth of telecom services,” said Christian De Faria, executive chairman of Bharti Airtel International Netherlands BV, the Bharti Airtel unit that holds the tower assets.
The deal is subject to statutory and regulatory approvals in the respective countries.
Bharti has previously also sold tower assets in some countries. In November 2014, it sold over 4,800 towers in Nigeria to NASDAQ-listed American Tower Corp for $1.05 billion. In December 2014, the firm signed a deal with Nigerian telecom infrastructure group IHS Holding Ltd to sell over 1,100 telecom towers in Zambia and Rwanda.
The company has also signed and scrapped a few tower deals. In July 2014, it announced that it would divest 3,100 towers in four countries to Helios Towers. But it cancelled the deal to sell towers in Tanzania and Chad to Helios last year, without disclosing details.
In October last year, it also scrapped a deal to sell its telecom tower assets in six African countries to Eaton Towers. The deal involved Bharti selling more than 3,500 telecom towers to Eaton Towers with a 10-year contract to use them for its own network.