Airtel Africa Plc, one of the continent’s biggest telecommunications companies, is separating its fiber-network operations into a new unit before looking for investors, according to Chief Executive Officer Segun Ogunsanya.
The carrier, listed in Lagos and London, has already received expressions of interest in its 65 000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of fiber-optic connections but hasn’t yet evaluated them, the CEO said in an interview with Bloomberg News. Airtel would keep a majority of the unit in any potential transaction, he added.
“Our plan is to bring all this infrastructure in one bucket,” Ogunsanya said. “Once we are able to legally put all this under one structure, then we begin to explore the options to monetise.”
The move echoes a number of similar initiatives by global telecom companies looking to cash in on infrastructure because investors value the long-term rental income from masts and cables higher than subscriber-focused businesses. Airtel Africa has sold some of its towers already as have continental rivals including MTN Group Ltd.
Airtel has 125 million customers in 14 sub-Saharan markets. Ogunsanya took over in October after previously heading up the Nigeria division, and he was part of the team that took the firm public in 2019 after a split from India’s Bharti Airtel Ltd.
Airtel’s fastest-growing division is Airtel Money, a mobile-finance service. Fintech businesses are booming in Africa due to the large number of people who have smartphones but not conventional bank accounts.
The company is looking to list the unit in two to three years, but for now is focused on growing the top line, Ogunsanya said. It was valued at $2.7 billion following the sale of a minority stake to Mastercard Inc., though the CEO declined to comment on a more recent target valuation.
Following “approval in principle” in November, Ogunsanya said he’s optimistic Airtel will get a license to operate the product in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 200 million people. Johannesburg-based MTN is in a similar position and also sees the development as a potential game changer.
Ogunsanya is looking to set up new data centers in five locations where sub-sea fiber cables owned by businesses like Alphabet Inc. and Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. connect to the continent. Airtel could also set up facilities in two of its biggest markets, Kenya and Nigeria, he said.