In Brief: Tower Talk: a guide to major cell site developments 

Indian telecoms group Bharti Airtel has signed a sale-and-leaseback agreement with UK-based infrastructure firm Helios Towers Africa (HTA),under which the operator will offload around 950 of its towers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Helios, as well as a number of towers currently under construction. Airtel will continue to have full access to the towers via a long term lease contract with Helios.A senior Airtel official said: ‘We are pleased to strengthen our partnership with HTA in Africa.The agreement is in line with our stated philosophy of divesting passive infrastructure and promoting sharing of towers to enhance operational efficiencies that will further the growth of telecom services”.,Airtel agreed to sell towers in the DRC,Tanzania,Chad and the Republic of Congo to HTA in July 2014. The Congo transaction was completed in H1 2015, but the deals covering Chad and Tanzania lapsed in June 2015.

***The Egyptian government is planning to award 4G mobile licences within two months, with the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) aiming to finalise the legal drafting of the concessions in two weeks,according to Egypt’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology. A total of four licences will be issued. Meanwhile, an unnamed NTRA official disclosed that Telecom Egypt would start offering mobile services using rivals’ networks if it secures one of the 4G licences. Three companies currently offer mobile services in Egypt – Vodafone, Orange and Etisalat Misr (Nile Telecom) – while monopoly fixed line provider Telecom Egypt (TE) is also looking to enter the wireless sector.

***T Mobile USA has signed an interconnect and roaming agreement with Cuba's state owned telecoms company, Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba. The roaming agreement comes into effect this summer, and is a conseqencue of the thawing of relations between Cuba and the USA.T-Mobile claims that more than a third (36.6%) of Cuban-born wireless customers are with T-Mobile, more than AT&T and triple the number of Verizon customers.

***Telecom Italia has tabled a formal EUR 820 million all-cash offer to acquire Milan-based fibre provider Metroweb. Metroweb is currently owned by state-lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) and infrastructure fund F2i, with Swisscom subsidiary Fastweb also retaining a minority stake, and Telecom Italia is prepared to buy 100 percent of the company or a two-thirds controlling stake. Telecom Italia’s bid pits it against utility giant Enel, which has reportedly offered around EUR 400 million for the 54 percent stake in Metroweb owned by F2i, valuing the broadband provider at EUR 776 million.

***Nepalese mobile operator Ncell says it plans to invest USD120 million on its infrastructure this year, which will be its largest ever annual spend. The firm is looking to expand its footprint into remote and rural areas of Nepal, building 214 new sites to fill in coverage gaps.It is also upgrading its existing infrastructure to 3G technology, with upgrades planned at 218 locations. The cellco currently provides 3G services in the Kathmandu Valley and the Everest region. Ncell has applied to the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) for a licence to provide 4G LTE services. The operator’s managing director said: “We are awaiting a positive decision from the NTA, and are hopeful it will come soon.”’ Telia of Sweden recently sold its 80% interest in Ncell to Malaysia’s Axiata Group for USD1.365 billion.