Airtel Africa Plc has revealed its plans to sell 4.500 cell towers across five countries in a bid to get rid of a $3.5 billion debt. The parent company to Airtel Kenya intends to sell towers in Tanzania, Madagascar, Gabon, Malawi and Chad, as revealed by chief executive officer Raghunath Mandava.
“We are constantly seeking to bring down our debt, and we prefer to bring it down even faster with the tower deals,” he told a news agency. “The company will rent the towers back from the buyers,” he added.
The recently released annual financial report shows that Airtel has a repayment of 750 million euros ($890 million) that is due in May. An instalment of $505 million is due in March 2023.
The operator reported that its profit after tax declined at the end Q2 as it took in $145 million compared to last year’s $271 million in the same period.
According to the CEO, Airtel Africa used proceeds earned from the listing in London and Nigeria last year to help debt from $7.7 billion to $3.5 billion.
This is not the first time that a firm has resorted to selling its cell towers. A number of wireless carriers across the have been selling similar tower assets to specialist operators. This is in an effort to save on maintenance costs, alleviate security concerns and bypass deficits in power and road infrastructure.
In the meantime, the demand for additional masts is growing across Africa as smartphone usage increases requiring faster broadbands.
The sell will not be as permanent as Airtel Africa plans to lease back the towers from the buyers.
“Many of Airtel Africa’s 14 markets border each other, making it easier to roll out fibre even during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the CEO said. The company has added 9,000 kilometres (5,592 miles) of cable this year, bringing the total to 47,000 kilometres.
“Our focus is to grow in the countries that we are in.”