The Bangladesh towers market is positioned to expand rapidly, which will benefit independent tower companies including i) edotco, ii) American Tower’s subsidiary, Transcend Infrastructure Holdings, in-partnership with Kirtonkhola, iii) TASC Summit Towers, and iv) AB HighTech.
Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country globally. However, the country only has a smartphone penetration rate of 33% and a mobile internet penetration rate of 35%. Ultimately, as more users in Bangladesh obtain smartphones and begin using 4G/LTE, and eventually 5G technology, data consumption will inflect higher – exacerbating the country’s need for more tower infrastructure.
Bangladesh Towers Market – Background
Presently, Bangladesh’s towers market comprises ~40k total sites, with the majority of those sites still held by the wireless carriers (particularly Grameenphone and Banglalink). Indeed, this implies that both build-to-suit (BTS) and sale-and-leaseback opportunities for independent tower companies exist, as the market continues to evolve.
Enhancing the attractiveness of Bangladesh’s towers market is policy action from the country’s telecommunications agency, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). Specifically, in 2018, BTRC granted four independent tower companies with licenses to operate in Bangladesh. These tower companies include:
- edotco Bangladesh
- Kirtonkhola Tower (iSON Tower) – now backed by American Tower’s Transcend (see below)
- TASC Summit Towers
- AB HighTech Consortium
BTRC granted each of these companies with a license, allowing them to operate for an initial period of 15 years, with the possibility to extend this term incrementally by 5 years. Additionally, the Government of Bangladesh allows foreign entities to hold up to a 70% ownership in these “tower sharing” companies. While local, Bangladesh entities need to hold the remaining 30% ownership interest.
Finally, Bangladesh’s wireless carriers have been prohibited from deploying their own tower infrastructure since the BTRC granted these tower companies with licenses. Therefore, Bangladesh’s wireless carriers, namely Grameenphone (Telenor and Grameen Telecom), Robi Axiata (Axiata Group and Bharti Airtel), Banglalink (VEON), and TeleTalk (Government of Bangladesh) must outsource their future tower builds.
Independent Tower Companies in Bangladesh – Enter American Tower
edotco has a portfolio of 12.3k towers and managed sites in Bangladesh. Specifically, the company has 11.2k owned towers and 1.1k managed towers, primarily for wireless carrier Robi Axiata. Additionally, edotco’s owned towers have a tenancy ratio of 1.43x, equating to 16.0k tenants with equipment on its owned towers.
Notably, during each of the past three quarters, edotco has added an average of ~500 owned towers to its portfolio.
edotco controls 70% of its Bangladesh towers entity. Additionally, Getco, a Bangladesh-based conglomerate, is a 30% shareholder and strategic partner, through its subsidiary Greencon Tower Company.
Kirtonkhola Tower (iSON Tower) – American Tower’s Transcend
To-date, Kirtonkhola Tower has not commenced building towers for wireless carriers. However, the company’s deployment pace in Bangladesh may inflect dramatically given that American Tower, through Transcend Infrastructure Holdings Pte. Ltd., recently purchased a controlling stake in the company.
As a reference point, in neighboring India, which is invariably a much larger towers market, American Tower owns 76.1k sites. Moreover, the company builds about 4.0k to 5.0k new towers annually in India. Indeed, these metrics illustrate the extent to which American Tower can scale in a geography both organically and inorganically.
In addition to American Tower, Kirtonkhola Tower’s owners include Confidence Group and iSON Group, via ECP Tower Singapore.
TASC Summit Towers (TASC Towers)
TASC Summit Towers, a subsidiary of Dubai-based TASC Towers, has a build-to-suit (BTS) agreement with wireless carrier Banglalink, which is owned by VEON. Specifically, TASC Summit Towers is currently building 259 towers for Banglalink throughout Bangladesh.
TASC Summit Towers’ main shareholders include:
- TASC Towers, which acquires and operates towers in the Middle East
- GTL Infrastructure, through Global Holding Corporation Private Ltd, an independent tower company in India
AB HighTech Consortium
AB HighTech Consortium has signed build-to-suit (BTS) agreements with wireless carriers Robi Axiata (Axiata Group and Bharti Airtel) and TeleTalk (Government of Bangladesh). Specifically, for Robi Axiata, AB HighTech is building-out an initial 100 towers for the wireless carrier in Bangladesh.
Overall, AB HighTech estimates that Bangladesh requires 10k to 12k more towers to be built over the next 6+ years.
AB HighTech’s shareholders include AB Hightech International, ADN Telecom, Changshu Fengfan Power Equipment Company, China Communications Services International, Orange Digital, Synergy Logistic, and ZN Enterprise.
Final Piece of the Puzzle – Sale-and-Leasebacks with American Tower
Recently, Grameenphone (Telenor) and Banglalink (VEON) began re-assessing the possibility of divesting their tower assets through sale-and-leaseback transactions. Given that Grameenphone owns ~12k tower sites and Banglalink owns ~7k tower sites in Bangladesh, only a buyer with substantial financial wherewithal could effectuate a sale-and-leaseback transaction with either wireless carrier. For example, prices of $25k to $50k per tower, implies a value for these ~19k towers between $475m and $950m.
edotco Bangladesh could be a possible buyer. However, the company already owns 11.2k towers in Bangladesh. Therefore, market concentration issues may prohibit edotco from scaling further through a transaction with Grameenphone or Banglalink.
Alternatively, American Tower, via Transcend Infrastructure Holdings, and its partnership with Kirtonkhola Tower, is well-placed to transact with Grameenphone and/or Banglalink given its lack of an existing tower portfolio in Bangladesh. Further, American Tower appointed new leadership to oversee its Asia-Pacific region, with Sanjay Goel replacing Amit Sharma in March 2021. Overall, American Tower is positioned to ‘unlock’ the substantial shift of tower infrastructure in Bangladesh – from wireless carrier to tower company ownership.