France Telecom seeks savings from tower deal in Cameroon, Ivory Coast

DUBAI, April 2 Tue Apr 2, 2013 6:26am EDT

DUBAI, April 2 (Reuters) - Nigerian infrastructure company IHS will manage 2,000 transmitter towers for France Telecom in Cameroon and Ivory Coast in a deal that the French company says will cut its costs.

France Telecom, which often operates under the brand name Orange and has units in about 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa, is on a drive to stabilise operating profits.

Its subsidiaries Côte d'Ivoire Telecom, Orange Côte d'Ivoire and Orange Cameroon will retain ownership of the base stations that transmit mobile phone signals, while IHS will manage passive infrastructure such as the electricity supply, the companies said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

IHS will also be able to rent tower space to other mobile operators and the France Telecom subsidiaries can use other towers IHS owns in Cameroon and Ivory Coast.

"It allows us to drive efficiencies, reduce costs and manage the particular conditions in emerging markets such as the cost of energy and accessibility of sites," Marc Rennard, Executive Director in charge of Africa, Middle East and Asia for the Orange Group, a unit of France Telecom, said in the statement.

He said other units in the region might make similar deals.

Building and maintaining mobile towers in Africa is typically more expensive than in other regions because of high security costs and electricity shortages that often require towers to be powered by generators, while new roads may need to be built to reach rural areas.

This has prompted operators to sell or lease out towers to specialist companies such as IHS. Other major players in Africa include Eaton Towers and Helios Towers.

IHS owns about 3,100 towers. With the France Telecom deal, it now manages a further 5,000 sites in Africa including South Africa's MTN, India's Bharti Airtel and Etisalat's Nigeria unit.

It operates in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Sudan and South Sudan. (Editing by Dinesh Nair/Ruth Pitchford)