London-based Helios Towers to build 500 cellphone masts in South Africa

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Helios Towers has bought a majority stake in SA Towers, a network infrastructure company, with plans to build at least 500 urban cellphone towers across South Africa.

The London-based firm, which owns and leases out 6,560 cellphone masts in Africa, said it was entering the South African market through a joint venture with Vulatel. The company followed up the news of the joint venture by announcing it would buy 89.5 percent of SA Towers for an undisclosed sum.

Chief Commercial Officer of Helios Towers, Alexander Leigh said the Vulatel and SA Towers agreements “will help us get off to a quick start in South Africa”.

According to Leigh, “the SA Towers pipeline is over 500 urban locations. They’ve specialised in the Gauteng region but also in KwaZulu Natal,  locations where the operators have capacity issues. These towers offer quick, capital-efficient solutions”.

SA Towers is backed by real-estate investor Africa Property Partners. The network infrastructure company has contracts in place with some of the country’s main mobile network operators and was launched in 2016 by local entrepreneurs Rico Marx and Harm Kelderman.

Leigh said “we have the ambition to turn this into a material tower company within the next 12 to 24 months”. He noted that some towers were already operational and the pipeline of sites was expected to grow. He revealed that the SA Towers entity would help facilitate Helios Towers’ plans to spend about $100 million on building network infrastructure in South Africa over the next three years.

Co-founder and Director of SA Towers, Rico Marx said “we have ambitious expansion plans in order to meet the burgeoning demand for high-quality tower infrastructure by the mobile network operators. In partnership with Helios Towers, we will be able to accelerate the development of this tower pipeline”.

Kash Pandya, CEO of Helios Towers told Business Day SA that South Africa has about 30,000 telecommunications towers and probably needs another 7,000-10,000. He said in addition to the new builds, Helios Towers would consider acquisitions of tower portfolios in South Africa since only about 10 percent of existing towers are owned by independent infrastructure providers.

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