5G coming to SA as Helios readies building 1000 towers

JOHANNESBURG — In the telecommunications world, there’s currently one word on every industry player’s lips: 5G. The rollout of 5G is interestingly being pioneered by players such as China’s Huawei, which awkwardly faces sanction in the US. But other players are getting involved too – among those being cell tower infrastructure specialists Helios. This company has, over the years, made rapid advancements across the African continent and now it’s pushing into South Africa. It’s buying up towers from existing networks but it’s also building its own. The plan is to lease these out to networks in order to help reduce their Capex. Interestingly, it is this model that could bring the first 5G connectivity in South Africa as well – meaning that mobile users will have fibre-internet-like speeds and latency via the airwaves. – Gareth van Zyl

By Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – Helios Towers Plc wants to build 1,000 telecommunication towers in South Africa in the next three years as it tries to capitalise on rapid growth in mobile services and shape up for an initial public offering.

The company operates cellphone towers in countries including Ghana, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It entered South Africa last month by striking a local partnership and buying an independent tower operator, giving it a foothold in a country expected to lead sub-Saharan Africa in rolling out faster, fifth-generation networks.

Chief Executive Officer Kash Pandya said Helios will look to acquire more towers from carriers such as MTN Group Ltd. and Vodacom Group Ltd. The country has around 30,000 towers in all, with only about 10% of those run by independent companies.

“While the focus is on building in the country, after the acquisition of SA Towers recently provided us with 500 potential tower sites, we are looking at acquisition opportunities,” Pandya told Bloomberg by phone.

UK-based Helios canceled a planned share sale last year and plans to use a $100m loan facility to build the towers. While a call date on a separate $600m bond is coming up soon, Pandya said there were no definite plans to tap the bond market again.

He said the company was “prepared” for a second IPO attempt but had no definite view on the timing for now.

Helios reported a 13% increase in fourth-quarter adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to $46.5m. It had $89m in cash at the end of last year, down from $120m a year earlier.