The European infrastructure company will continue its tower shopping spree, adding around 7,000 sites to its portfolio

2020 has been a big year for Cellnex, a company which has been on a relentless mission to acquire towers to expand its infrastructure empire. At the start of 2020, the company counted some 36,500 sites in eight European countries among its portfolio. Fast forward to today and Cellnex is making a deal with Poland’s Play that will see the operator double that figure, reaching 73,000 sites in nine countries.


Cellnex is buying around 7,000 sites from Play for €800 million, taking a 60% stake in the newly formed site management company. The remaining 40% stake will be retained by Play, who themselves are being majority acquired by France’s Iliad. The new infrastructure company has promised to invest up to €1.3 billion in the next decade, aiming to roll out 5,000 new sites.


The joint company’s ownership structure follows the same blueprints as those laid out for Cellnex’s earlier deal with Iliad, when it purchased 70% of Iliad’s tower businesses in France last year.


“Cellnex’s European network continues to grow in scope and geographic diversification, density and capillarity,” said Franco Bernabè, Cellnex’s Chairman. “This is most certainly a significant differentiating factor that represents an undoubted added value, allowing us to present ourselves as a natural partner of choice for European mobile operators with which we can work together in different markets, supporting them in their projects to complete the roll-outs of 4G and accelerate the spread of 5G.”


From Iliad’s perspective, this deal with Cellnex will give it a vital cash injection that it can redirect towards expanding Play’s 4G and 5G networks, purchasing 5G spectrum, and preparing their entrance into the fixed market. Meanwhile, this is simply the latest in a long line of acquisitions for Cellnex, with the company snapping up tower sites n Portugal, the UK, France, and Italy, over the last year. The Spanish operator is betting heavily that the immutable value of tower infrastructure will prove a worthwhile investment in the long term and is capitalising on other operators’ willingness to offload such infrastructure to free up cash for things like 5G, especially now given the economic strain of the coronavirus pandemic. 


Last month, Iliad agreed to buy a 40% stake in Play, giving them the majority of seats on Play’s management board. The French operator plans to launch a public bid for the remainder of the company’s shares for €2.2 billion, or €3.5 billion including debt. Assuming no regulatory issues arise, the deal is expected to close in November.


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