London-based Helios Towers set to invest $100 million in South Africa over three years

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Helios Towers said it plans to spend about $100 million (1.4 billion rand) on building network infrastructure in South Africa over the next three years.

The company, which owns and leases out 6,560 cellphone towers in Africa, shelved a Johannesburg listing in 2018 after equity markets soured. Helios said it will enter the South African market through a partnership with Vulatel, a majority black-owned business that bought Dimension Data’s fibre and wireless unit in 2017.

Kash Pandya, CEO of Helios Towers told Business Day South Africa that the company has about 30,000 telecommunications towers and probably needs another 7,000 to 10,000.

South Africa’s largest mobile network operators are still spending large sums on building out their networks, while new players, including Rain, are also adding to the pie. In 2018, Rain said it plans to grow its network from 2,100 towers to 5,000 within three years.

According to Pandya, in addition to 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. He said “in time, we believe mobile network operators will want to release capital from tower infrastructure, and there are tower companies like ourselves who will be very interested. South Africa is a big economy and we expect the country to be a big part of Helios’s business”.

Helios Towers, whose tenants in other countries include MTN Ghana and Vodacom Tanzania, will own 66 percent of its South African business, while Vulatel, which installs and maintains fibre and wireless infrastructure, will hold the balance.

Speaking on the initiative, Alexander Leigh, chief commercial officer at Helios Towers said “when we look at South Africa, the need for investment in both rural and urban areas is massive. And operators will need more efficiency, and that comes from sharing and converging infrastructure”.

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