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One of its subsidiaries Helios Towers Africa, in July of last year picked up more than 1, 000 mobile phone towers in Tanzania from cellular operator Vodacom, a local cellular operator there backed by Vodafone. That deal ended up as a three way venture with Vodacom itself, Helios and with competing cellcom carrier Millicom as well.
With the enormous capex needs of a growth industry in a very large continent, increasingly Vodafonemobile carriers in Africa have become content for the cellphone towers there to become a form of investment commons, held mainly by independent operators and shared by several mobile phone companies.
Now the Indian telecoms giant Bharti Airtel is thinking of going down the same path and spinning out its own cell towers in Africa as well. Thousands more towers from the carrier MTN may come on the block as well. The Airtel sale is reported to hope to fetch as much as $2 billion, with assets sold of in smaller chunks of Us$500 million for each tranche to make it more manageable.
Accordingly the Financial Times of London reports today that Helios Towers Africa is having discussions over raising US$500 million of new capital from private equity investors. Likely Helios will talk to their existing investor constituency, including to the Soros and Rothschild interests, The American private equity group Providence Equity Partners, who specialise in telecoms and media investments, is also well up there on Helios’s radar screens , according to the Financial Times.
Providence Capital Partners are based in Providence Rhode Island, though also have offices in new York, London, Beijing and Hong Kong and New Delhi. The firm has US$39 billion in assets under management.
As for the strategic goals for Helios Towers Africa, these have been laid out in the Helios Investment Partners website: “In November 2009, Helios and a group of investors including Soros Strategic Partners LP, RIT Capital Partners plc and Lord Rothschild’s family interests, Albright Capital Management LLC committed an initial US$350m to Helios Towers Africa Limited.”… “a newly formed company will build and maintain telecommunications towers and lease space on those towers to wireless telecommunications services providers across Africa.”… “With the initial equity commitment, the financial flexibility of its shareholders, and the in-region operating experience of Helios Investment Partners, Helios Towers Africa anticipates establishing itself as the most experienced, operationally capable and best independent tower operator in Africa.”
Now it seems Helios may be getting ready to take further steps along this path with additional investments. Certainly with the economic recovery world wide beginning to show some legs they may well obtain a receptive audience in the capital markets, whether Providence Capital Partners or other entities.