Wireless infrastructure firm Arqiva, which among other things builds and manages many of the masts and rooftop sites used to deploy 4G and 5G services by UK mobile operators, has today announced the £2bn sale of their telecoms business to rival pan-European tower operator Cellnex (Spain).
The deal is said to comprise around 7,400 of Arqiva’s cellular sites, including masts and towers as well as urban rooftop sites, and the right to market a further 900 sites across the United Kingdom. The move by Cellnex follows their previously announced long-term strategic agreement with BT in June 2019, which saw the tower firm secure the rights to operate and market 220 high towers located throughout the country.
Arqiva is also known to hold a number of concession agreements with local authorities for the use of street furniture (often used for the installation of 4G/5G and WiFi small cells), such as across 14 of London’s boroughs, which are understood to be included in today’s deal.
Proceeds from the sale will be used to help pay down Arqiva’s sizeable debt. Crucially the deal does not impact their remaining broadcast infrastructure for TV and Radio services (i.e. around 1,500 broadcast transmission sites in the UK and 5 teleports) or their interests in machine-to-machine data services (i.e. smart meter networks for the utilities sector).
Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO of Arqiva, said:
“This agreement provides both stability and a focus for our future as we concentrate on the provision of broadcast infrastructure, end-to-end networks and connectivity solutions for our TV and radio customers, international content owners, data network providers and utilities.
The deal will see a number of colleagues transfer to Cellnex, which I am confident will be an excellent owner for the business. I am sure that it will continue to go from strength to strength under their stewardship.”
Tobias Martinez, CEO of Cellnex, said:
“The Arqiva Telecoms division acquisition is a key milestone for Cellnex. Its strong UK asset-base, revenues and financial profile, combined with its long history at the heart of UK digital infrastructure, make it a perfect addition to our operations. This deal will not only add c.8,300 telecom sites to our portfolio but an experienced team that will further strengthen Cellnex’s demonstrated ability to meet its customers requirement.
I look forward to working with the Arqiva Telecoms division team, in order to continue to run the business successfully, assuming new challenges together within the Cellnex project. … We are ideally placed to bring our operational expertise and innovative approach to bear in a context where the Government and regulators are looking to encourage greater connectivity for all citizens and businesses through network development.”
Arqiva had previously tried to solve its debt problems by proposing to float on the market via an Initial Public Offering (IPO), although it abandoned that plan in 2017 due to rising market uncertainty (a problem that has not gone away). Otherwise the deal, which has already won approval by the boards of both Arqiva and Cellnex, is expected to complete during the second half of 2020; barring any unexpected regulatory obstacles.
All eyes may now switch to Vodafone, which during the summer said they were proceeding with plans to monetise a substantial proportion of its European tower infrastructure over the next 18 months; including around 6,600 sites in the UK (here). We suspect Cellnex may have an interest in those too and if Arqiva wasn’t so hobbled by its own debt then they might have also held an interest.