Helios expanding tower business in South Africa

Helios Towers Ltd plans to acquire additional mobile-phone tower sites in South Africa from Eagle Towers Ltd as it expands its presence in Africa’s most industrialized economy.

The London-based company first entered South Africa in 2019 through a partnership with Vulatel Ltd that brought the group 500 sites. It will add another 65 with this deal, which it expects to be concluded by the second half of the year, Chief Executive Kash Pandya said by phone.

Helios also received an order from the country’s largest mobile-phone operator, Vodacom Group Ltd, to build towers over the next 15 months. Vodacom recently announced that it would start rolling out 5G services in South Africa’s three largest cities.

Tower companies have been expanding in Africa to take advantage of faster internet connections and takeup of smartphones across the continent. Meanwhile, wireless carriers around the world have been disposing of tower assets to free up capital for other ventures, creating a sweet spot for deal-making.

Helios is working on a number of deals that will come through during the next month or two, said Pandya, and expects acquisitions to be concluded by end of the year depending on the impact of the global coronavirus impact.

“We have seen a degree of slowdown in terms being able to travel and engaging with the parties when it comes to deal negotiations,” said Pandya. “It’s a little bit slower at the moment as the government and regulators hunker down.”

Helios is in talks with lenders and development-finance institutions about raising debt for large deals if needed later in the year, Chief Financial Officer Tom Greenwood said on the same call. The company has about $146 million in cash, and $100 million in debt facilities, following a London share sale last year.

The shares have gained 7% since the listing late last year, valuing the company at about 1.2 billion pounds ($1.5 billion).

Helios is also looking to enter other African countries, including Senegal, Morocco, and Egypt, Greenwood said. It currently holds a portfolio of about 7,000 towers.

Read: MTN South Africa service revenue falls on roaming issues

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