What next for Cellnex?

Spanish communications infrastructure operator Cellnex Telecoms has had an impressive year having made a string of substantial asset acquisitions, and with several more potential acquisitions in the pipeline. Given such a high level of M&A activity, what is Cellnex’s long-term strategy?

Industry experts agree that Cellnex has grand ambitions. Some industry figures IJInvestor spoke to view Cellnex’s recent spending spree as indicative of a desire to be the European answer to the mighty American Tower Corporation, which operates in five continents and 17 countries.

If that is the case, Cellnex has a long way to go before it reaches American Tower’s intercontinental stature. But 2019 will, nevertheless, go down as an historic year for the company which counts ConnecT – owned by Edizione (60%), ADIA (20%), and GIC (20%) – as a significant shareholder of 29.99%, as well as minor shareholders Threadneedle Asset Management, CriteriaCaxia, CPPIB, and Blackrock.

Cellnex in 2019

In its latest available results for the first nine months of 2019, Cellnex posted a 13% increase in revenues to €753 million ($834 million), and a 13% increase to EBITDA at €498 million.

Of its revenues contributed by infrastructure services to mobile operators, there was an increase of 17% compared to September 2018, to total 67%.

Broadcasting infrastructure accounts for 23% of the company revenues, and the final 10% is made up of security and emergency service networks and solutions for internet of things and smart cities.

Cellnex unapologetically regards itself as “Europe’s leading operator of wireless telecommunications and broadcast infrastructures”. Indeed, its portfolio, including roll-outs up to 2027, will be 53,000 sites.

Of that figure, deals signed this year alone account for about half – 24,000 assets (built and to be built) were acquired by Cellnex in 2019.

The business has invested a whopping €6.5 billion in 2019 on M&A activity.

Its first major deal this year was the acquisition of 10,700 sites from the French and Italian Iliad subsidiaries, and Swiss independent mobile network operator Salt. IJInvestor had reported on Iliad’s plans to monetise the French towers in March.

Of the total €4 billion investment, €1.7 billion was allocated to the creation of a new company to oversee management of the 5,700 French sites with a majority 70% acquired by Cellnex; the remainder is held by Iliad.

Iliad Italy completely ceded 2,200 sites in a €600 million transaction.

Meanwhile, Cellnex signed a deal with Swiss mobile network operator Salt through which it now controls 90% of a new company managing 2,800 telecoms sites integrated with the seller. The acquisition was worth €700 million.

Additionally, between 2020 and 2027, Cellnex plans an outlay of €1.35 billion for the rollout of 4,000 new base transceiver stations as follows:

  • France – 2,500
  • Italy – 1,000
  • Switzerland – 500

In June, the company signed a £100 million ($127 million) deal with BT to operate and market UK high tower assets. As part of the deal, Cellnex acquired the marketing and operating rights for 220 high towers from BT for the next 20 years, increasing the number of UK sites it managed by 40%.

Former InfraVia asset Cignal was bought by Cellnex for €210 million in September, increasing the Spanish player’s towers by 546. Cellnex also committed to investing €60 million in 600 new sites by 2026.

And the very next month (October), Cellnex acquired Arqiva for £2 billion, bringing with it 7,400 new sites and marketing rights for about 900 more. To support the acquisition, Cellnex raised €2.5 billion in a heavily oversubscribed appeal to investors at the beginning of this month (November). It also raised €1.2 billion in March.

The deal also includes concessions for the use of urban fixtures for the deployment in 14 districts of London for telecommunications infrastructure, a key resource for the densification and roll-out of 5G.

Mobile operator Three has called into question Cellnex’s motives, and called upon the UK regulator to challenge Cellnex’s ambitions, claiming that the acquisition would give Cellnex 80% of independent UK mobile sites.

This is a striking development, considering Cellnex’s Spain-centric activities are essentially limited due to anti-trust issues. One industry observer notes that this expansionist activity is both a means of circumventing and even going beyond the limits of operating in its home territory.

Opportunities

The myriad transactions going on in telecoms M&A have repeatedly seen bidding interest from Cellnex.

In February, Cellnex’s chief executive Tobias Martinez said he would analyse any opportunity involved in the CTIL monetisation (being explored by O2 and Vodafone).

IJInvestor reported on the failure of French tower TDF in June, a process that Cellnex was involved in. It is likely that when the Brookfield and PSP owned interest returns to market, Cellnex will revive its designs.

Cellnex has also been linked to the divestment of Czech telecoms / broadcasting business České Radiokomunikace, which is 100% owned by funds managed by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets. The vehicles − and their respective shareholdings in the business − are:

CRA has a portfolio of 65 towers covering around 60% of Czech households in addition to tower infrastructure and television and radio broadcasting.