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Wind & 3 to Cast Off Masts

Italian mobile operators Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA and 3 Italia have signed a memorandum of understanding to combine their cell site tower assets with the intention of selling them to a third party and leasing back tower space, according to an industry source.

The combined assets would comprise about 17,500 towers, of which 10,000 are from Wind and 7,500 from 3 Italia. The sale of these assets reportedly could bring in between €1.5 billion ($2 billion) and €2 billion ($2.7 billion) for the operators.

Wind and 3 Italia are the latest operators to consider some form of network sharing to save on operating costs. The deal in Italy is confined to the operators' towers and does not include the cellular base stations. The operators will retain full ownership of the base stations. (See Will More Mobile Operators Dare to Share?, Time for a Mobile NetCo?, and Vodafone, Orange to Share RANs.)

For 3 Italia, which has invested more than €7 billion ($9.6 billion) in 3G license fees and network infrastructure in Italy, the deal follows its decision to outsource network operations to Ericsson in January 2005. Selling off its towers in order to rent tower space will reduce costs in one area of network maintenance and help it to focus on service delivery. One industry source says that the annual rental cost for space on one tower would be about €15,000 ($20,600). (See Ericsson Manages H3G Italy .)

For Wind, the tower sale would go toward paying off some of its debt, which the operator reported in its first quarter results was €6.9 billion ($9.5 billion). (See Orascom Reports Q1.)

Another reason for the operators to look for cost savings is that they've been hit recently by a new Italian law, called the Bersani decree. This decree prevents operators from charging their customers a fee for topping up their prepaid phone cards. An industry source says that the impact on 3 Italia would be lost revenue of €110 million ($151 million) from March to the end of this year.

Wind and 3 Italia are already related through common investor Orascom Telecom . The Egypt-based holding company owns a controlling stake of Wind, which it acquired in 2005. Orascom CEO Naguib Sawiris is chairman of Wind's board.

Orascom also has a 20 percent stake in Hutchison Telecommunications International Ltd. (NYSE: HTX), which is owned by 3 Italia's parent Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (Hong Kong: 0013; Pink Sheets: HUWHY).

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

eurichardson 12/5/2012 | 3:05:30 PM
re: Wind & 3 to Cast Off Masts
It looks like Wind, 3 and many other mobile operators are selling off their RF tower properties to professional Tower companies. How likely are these tower companies to get into the home femtocell business, which is another hot topic these days.
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