Expanding at the base

mobile tower Africa IHSIHS Towers acquired MTN's towers in Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon in December 2012. (Image source: Ivan Prole)

IHS Towers has been building on a record of success in West Africa, with the rest of Africa and the Middle East set squarely in its sights

The mobile telecoms infrastructure specialist represents a vision of a connected Africa, of free exchange of information and the freedom to capitalize on opportunity in digital commerce, of support for economic growth and socio-economic development through support for smart and innovative use of mobile infrastructure.

The company contributes to economies by providing infrastructure solutions to mobile operators that enable wider, more efficient and reliable networks to help them achieve core business objectives.

Since it's inception in 2001, IHS has developed its core business operations in Nigeria, moving into support for and development of tower co-location models, and moving across geographies.

The firm acquired MTN's towers in Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon in October 2012 and is now managing more than 5,000 towers in five countries, of which it owns around 3,000 towers. Of 1,000 staff, more than 80 per cent are technical engineers. It has built around 10,000 sites and has a 99.995 per cent up-time record of operational reliability.

IHS promotes the narrative of Africa as an attractive investment location, from a communications industry perspective, with a young and increasingly able population, low penetration and the potential for more and better connectivity.

It also offers the view that, with the transition from 2G to 3G, as networks improve, so the density of the tower network needs to increase and to do so rapidly.

There is huge pressure on cashflow among operators, certainly. However, IHS's portfolio matters to MTN and its contemporary operators, when it comes to outsourcing passive infrastructure, because the firm's solutions and approach to market actually limits risk while enhancing revenue potentials.

Young and developing, and commercially focussed

IHS believes that operators will build very few of its own towers in future. The majority of operators will choose to outsource deployment of tower infrastructure. That is where firm steps in and delivers to market.

IHS is an integrator in the sense that it can offer turnkey deployment of tower networks, calling in and collaborating with all stakeholders in the process - from construction firms that make the concrete tower bases, to the antenna manufacturers.

It has, furthermore, a solid investor base, with shareholder support from Wendel, ECP, IFC, FMO, and Investec.

The tower industry is young, nonetheless. IHS was formed in 2001 by Issam Darwish, formerly deputy managing director of Motophone, and William Saad, formerly operations director at Motophone. It has evolved through the provision of managed services to tower construction and deployment, to the comprehensive co-location proposition it offers today.

It is Nigerian at heart, having been formed to serve a Nigerian base, and with most of its revenues coming from Nigeria - but it is expansive and pan-continental in spirit.

The firm has commercial relationships with MTN, Airtel, Orange, Vodafone, Etisalat and Millicom, and is looking to deepen these. It sees the way to success as consolidation of its relations and development of new business relations.

Vertical and developmental initiatives matter, as network growth is closely allied to economic growth and deployment of infrastructure to industrial initiatives and both public and private sector imperatives.


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IHS Towers (external link)

IHS seeks US$200mn expansion funds (from December 2011)

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