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By Dinesh Nair
DUBAI, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Etisalat, the Gulf’s top telecom operator, has hired Standard Bank as an advisor for the planned sale of transmitter towers by its Nigerian affiliate, three banking sources aware of the matter said.
Etisalat Nigeria is considering a sale of its towers in a deal that could raise about $400 million, Reuters reported in October.
Etisalat did not respond to an email seeking comment, while Standard Bank declined to comment.
Johannesburg-based Standard Bank, Africa’s largest lender, has been hired due to its local presence and expertise in the African country, two of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter has not been made public.
Building and maintaining mobile towers in Africa is typically more expensive than in other regions because of 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 increasingly prompted operators to seek to sell or lease towers to specialist firms such as Eaton Towers, Helios Towers Africa, American Tower Corp and IHS.
In December, MTN Group, Africa’s largest telecom, agreed to over 1,200 mobile towers in Rwanda and Zambia to IHS, as part of a strategy to dispose of some of its infrastructure to focus on products and services.
Standard Bank is in the process of helping identify potential buyers for the business, the sources said.
Etisalat is estimated to own about 2,500 towers in Nigeria. Towers are often valued at around $150,000 each, making 2,500 potentially worth up to about $400 million.
Nigeria is an attractive market for tower firms as it has 169 million people and a relatively low mobile penetration of 68 percent.
Etisalat has a 40 percent stake in Etisalat Nigeria, while Abu Dhabi state investment fund Mubadala owns a 30 percent stake. The telecoms firm agreed to buy Vivendi’s 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom for $5.7 billion in November. (Additional reporting by Matt Smith; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)