New Delhi: Bharti Airtel Ltd, the world’s fourth-largest telecom operator by subscribers, will sell and lease back 3,100 towers in its African operations to Helios Towers Africa (HTA) for an undisclosed sum. The move is part of the Indian company’s efforts to cut debt in its money-losing Africa operations.

HTA is a leading telecom tower company in Africa, operating in Ghana, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo. Bharti operates in all these countries, and 14 other nations in Africa. HTA’s total number of towers in these countries will rise to 7,800 after the transaction is completed, Bharti said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The deal will help (Bharti) Airtel deleverage through debt reduction and reduced ongoing capital expenditure," the statement said, adding “the agreement also envisages that tower operations related personnel will be transferred from Airtel to HTA."

In addition, Bharti will also get long-term access to HTA’s tower portfolio.

The companies did not disclose the number of towers in each country that were being transferred or the value of the deal.

Two Mumbai-based telecom analysts, working with multinational brokerage firms, estimated that the transaction is likely to be valued in the range of $300-500 million based on similar deals in neighbouring countries. The analysts requested anonymity as their organizations do not allow them to speak to the media.

Bharti is expected to announce similar deals for the remaining towers in the continent in the next few weeks. It is estimated to have approximately 15,000 towers in the continent, before the deal with HTA.

“The consolidation of tower assets across Africa will drive industry-wide cost efficiencies through infrastructure sharing. The agreement will further help in accelerating the growth of telecom services in the continent and at the same time benefit the environment by avoiding duplication of infrastructure," Manoj Kohli, chairman of Bharti Airtel International Netherlands BV (BAIN), said in the statement.

Bharti’s African business, which it had acquired for around $9 billion in 2010 from Kuwait-based Zain, is yet to turn profitable. The Africa operations’ net loss widened to $116 million in the quarter ended March from $48 million in the year earlier. Total revenue rose to $1.14 billion from $1.12 billion.

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