Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, a unit of the Australian investment bank Macquarie Group, is shopping Global Tower Partners, the largest privately held operator of U.S. cell towers, according to multiple reports. The sale could net as much as $4 billion, according to the reports.
The sale of GTP is just getting underway, according to reports from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal. GTP operates or leases 16,000 wireless sites, including around 6,400 cell towers in the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Macquarie Infrastructure bought Global Tower in 2007 from Blackstone Group for about $1.43 billion, including company debt. At the time, GTP's portfolio included around 2,500 towers and 4,600 rooftop sites in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Macquarie declined to comment, according to Reuters. GTP CEO and founder Marc Ganzi declined to comment on the reports. "We are very focused on our core business, which is the best it has ever been with record leasing levels and new [base transceiver station] originations," he told FierceWireless. "We will stay focused on that part of our story."
American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications, the three major publicly traded U.S. tower companies, own roughly half of all U.S. wireless sites, according to RBC Capital Markets. It's not clear how the larger companies view GTP as an asset.
"We are constantly looking at acquisitions and opportunities to grow the business, because we are still very bullish on the long-term growth aspects of our current assets and many that we could potentially acquire," Crown Castle CEO Ben Moreland told investors last month, according to the Journal.
The tower industry has undergone some consolidation in the past year. Last fall Crown Castle agreed buy the rights to 7,200 of T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) towers for $2.4 billion in an effort to boost Crown's tower presence in dense urban markets, where carriers' capacity needs will be greatest in the years ahead.
And, in June 2012, SBA agreed to purchase all of TowerCo's 3,252 tower sites in 47 states across the United States and Puerto Rico for $1.45 billion, substantially increasing its domestic cell site footprint.
Tower companies are looking to capitalize on capacity enhancements carriers are making. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) now covers 301 million POPs with LTE and its macro LTE deployment is largely complete. However, the carrier will be deploying LTE on AWS spectrum and adding small cells to its network, which could increase tower companies' revenues. AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) expects to cover 270 million POPs with LTE by year-end, and also is planning a large deployment of small cells as it finishes its LTE buildout.
T-Mobile is in the middle of its LTE buildout, as is Sprint. Moreover, Sprint's decision to launch a nationwide TD-LTE network using Clearwire's 2.5 GHz spectrum could be a big win for the tower companies that will supply the sites for the buildout, according to a recent analysis by New Street Research.
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
Analyst: Sprint's nationwide 2.5 GHz LTE network could be boon for tower companies
AT&T leaves door open to selling non-core assets amid tower sale speculation
Crown Castle sees $2.4B T-Mobile tower purchase as long-term capacity play
T-Mobile sells towers to Crown Castle for $2.4B
SBA Communications buys TowerCo assets for $1.45B