Telecoms tower company IHS plans ‘up to 30,000’ sites in Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom is on the verge of massive change according to telecoms tower company IHS. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 May 2019
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Telecoms tower company IHS plans ‘up to 30,000’ sites in Saudi Arabia

  • Firm sees key opportunity in ‘pulsating heart’ of Arab world
  • Company, which rents masts to telcos, ‘moving ahead’ with IPO

LONDON: Telecoms tower company IHS plans to operate up to 30,000 masts in Saudi Arabia within the next five years, as part of a growth strategy in a country it sees as the “pulsating heart” of the Arab world.

The Mauritius-headquartered IHS — which buys or builds mobile phone masts and then leases them to telecoms companies — said in March it had struck a deal with Zain KSA to buy its 8,100 towers in Saudi Arabia. It will then lease them back to the operator.

IHS is now looking for further expansion in the Kingdom and the wider Arabian Gulf, amid plans to raise funds via an initial public offering (IPO).

Sam Darwish, group chief executive at IHS Towers, said the group was interested in talks with additional telecoms operators in Saudi Arabia, which include Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and Mobily, although declined to specify whether negotiations were underway. 

“We are definitely interested and would love to develop potential deals with any operator in the Kingdom,” said Darwish.

“There will be an influx point at some point soon, where growth or the transformation in the Kingdom is going to explode in a very positive way. And that’s why the number of towers for us could be somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 (in approximately five years), because the Kingdom is on the verge of a massive change to the positive.”

Another route to growth in Saudi Arabia is for IHS to build its own towers, rather than acquiring them from telcos, Darwish said.

“Saudi Arabia is just beginning now the 5G rollout … With 5G, you’re going to need a lot of towers, because 5G uses different spectrums,” he said. 

The agreement with Zain KSA — which is subject to regulatory approval — also involves IHS building at least 1,500 new telecoms towers over the next six years, the company said. The deal marks IHS’ second in the Gulf, following a previous agreement with Zain Kuwait.

Upon completion of the Saudi Arabia and Kuwait transactions, IHS will have approximately 33,100 towers in its portfolio. IHS, which started its business in Nigeria in 2001, also has operations in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and Zambia.

“Now our main focus is the Gulf, the whole Gulf, plus potentially North Africa — we’re looking at opportunities there. And if you look at the Arab world in general, the Kingdom is the pulsating heart … its population is young, and they’re very influential on the world stage,” said Darwish.

He declined to name any specific operators with which IHS is in discussions.

The company recently obtained a foreign investment license from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority in Saudi Arabia, where its staff will number between 100 and 200, Darwish said. 

The company last year shelved a plan for an IPO, but Darwish said it is thinking about “moving ahead” with plans for a listing in New York or London.

A secondary listing, for example of a Saudi subsidiary on the Riyadh stock exchange, has also been considered although there are no concrete plans.


Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

Updated 47 min 2 sec ago
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Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

  • The PM said cabinet ministers need to be united and responsible
  • Lebanon’s debt is almost 150% of its GDP
BEIRUT, June 18 : Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.
The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.
“What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.
Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.
Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.
Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.
Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.
“We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.
“For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity...to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.
After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a program of investments toward which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing. (Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond)