Africa’s top telco towers firm seeks $7bn US listing

A telecoms firm launched in Lagos is set to be Africa’s biggest listing in the United States with a suggested $7bn valuation. IHS Holding Ltd, which operates up to 28,000 wireless telcoms towers across nine countries, announced plans to go ahead with a potential initial public offering (IPO) of shares to investors in a press release on 14 August. It said the listing would start after a review by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but gave no more details.

It is Africa’s largest mobile infrastructure provider and third largest independent multinational tower company in the world. It could be seeking to raise up to $1bn in New York.

In February, before the COVID-19 crisis hit markets, news agency Bloomberg gave the estimated valuation for IHS, which is based in Mauritius, and reported it had hired Citigroup Inc and JP Morgan Chase & Co as global coordinators for a listing. The preference was for New York as other world-leading telco tower firms are also listed in the US and have higher valuations compared to those in London. In 2018 the firm had delayed plans for a listing until after Nigeria’s Presidential election as Nigeria is still its main market.

Group CEO is US entrepreneur Sam Darwish, originally from Lebanon, was working in Nigeria with the first mobile (GSM) operator there. He founded IHS in 2001, with IHS Chief Operating Officer William Saad when the Government announced plans to privatize telecoms. The group builds or buys towers and leases space to mobile network operators (MNOs) who in turn provide wireless voice or data to customers, and it manages sites for MNOs. It is active in Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia and Rwanda with some 24,000 towers.

Earlier in 2020, IHS finalized the acquisition of some 1,600 telecom towers in Kuwait from Zain and of Brazil’s Cell Site Solutions (Cessão De Infraestruturas S.A., CSS) which has some 2,300 towers and telecom infrastructure sites in Brazil, Peru and Colombia.

Shareholders include the French private equity investor Wendel Group, which has a 21.3% stake, Goldman Sachs, MTN Group Ltd, previously reported with a 29% stake, and many other leading investors including International Finance Corporation and Emerging Capital Partners. Wendel is a listed long-term capital investor in a group launched by Jean-Martin de Wendel in 1704.

As it expanded, IHS has raised $5.5bn in equity from its shareholders and debt over the years, including $1.3bn in debt in 2019.

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