Report: 48% of Europe's mobile towers to be independently owned by 2020

A new study by TowerXchange predicted that 48 per cent of European mobile towers will be owned by independent tower companies by 2020 as mobile network operators continue to divest their infrastructure.

Indeed, on Friday Telefónica Deutschland became the latest operator to exploit current attractive market valuations. The German operator said it plans to sell almost all of its mobile towers to Telxius -- the new mobile tower unit set up by Telefónica in Spain -- receiving €587 million ($662 million) for 2,350 towers.

TowerXchange, which specialises in research into the telecoms tower industry, said Europe's telecom industry is on the cusp of a major shift in infrastructure ownership over the next five years.

The company's CEO Kieron Osmotherly said that 36 per cent of Europe's 600,000 sites are currently owned by dedicated infrastructure providers -- including operator-led tower companies, joint venture infrastructure companies (infracos) or independent tower companies -- with just over a third of that figure (13 per cent of the total) owned by pure-play independent tower companies.

"By 2020 we forecast that 65 per cent of Europe's towercos will be managed by towercos and infracos, with 48 per cent being owned by pure-play independent towercos," said Osmotherly. "TowerXchange is tracking 200,000 European towers, worth approximately €20 billion, which we forecast will be transferred from operator-captive to independent towercos in the next five years."

TowerXchange noted that the trend of European operators carving out and selling their passive infrastructure to independent infrastructure parties was initiated by KPN back in 2012, but only really reached scale in the past 12 to 18 months when independent towerco Cellnex (formerly Abertis Telecom) acquired tower portfolios from Telefónica and Yoigo in Spain and Wind in Italy for over €1 billion.

"The recent carve out of Telefónica's 11,000 towers into subsidiary, Telxius, the imminent sale of Telecom Italia's infrastructure unit, Inwit, combined with the commencement of VimpelCom's process to divest its towers across Russia and the CIS are just some of the key transactions accounting for this change in ownership," the company observed.

TowerXchange noted that the appetite of MNOs to entrust management to specialised infrastructure subsidiaries, joint ventures or towercos has led to the rise of entities such as Inwit, Deutsche Funkturm and Global Tower (operator led towercos), MBNL, CTIL and Victus Networks (joint venture infracos) and Cellnex, CETIN and FPS Towers (independent towercos).

Scott Coates, CEO of Wireless Infrastructure Group and chair of the recently formed European Wireless Industry Association, said: "We are now long past the point where MNOs see their towers as a source of competitive advantage, similarly the industry is past the point where engineers are sceptical that third parties will effectively manage their networks -- the decision ultimately now comes down to balance sheet drivers."

For more:
- see this TowerXchange release
- see this Telefónica Deutschland release (in German)

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