Eaton Towers plans to build 250 new transmitter towers in Africa in 2013

Telecom Lead Africa: Eaton Towers is planning to build 250 new transmitter towers in Africa in 2013.

The expansion will enable the telecom infrastructure provider in Africa to increase its portfolio by a sixth.

The London-based Eaton will build about 100 towers in Uganda, 100 in South Africa and 50 in Ghana next year, said Alan Harper, chief executive officer of Eaton Towers.

The total number of towers it owns or manages will increase to 1,750 from 1,500.

The company’s customers include Vodafone, South Africa’s MTN and India’s Bharti Airtel, and it will make more acquisitions next year, Reuters reported.

“We still have a number of things we’re working on in east and West Africa. In the first half of 2013 we would be expecting to look at new business to open up in places where there’s a strong economy, good GDP growth and more, rather than less, operators,” said Harper.

Africa has the lowest internet usage in the world due to low wages, high subscription costs and a relative lack of infrastructure, but more people are getting online as smartphone prices fall and telecom operators improve their networks.

Internet use in sub-Saharan Africa will rise to 24.7 percent of the population by 2020 from 10.5 percent in 2010, according to Euromonitor International, to be the fastest growing region globally.

Building and maintaining mobile towers in Africa is typically more expensive than in other regions because of high security costs and a shortage of electricity that means towers are often powered by generators, while reaching rural areas can require new roads to be built.

Most African countries also offer only low revenues per user and competition is fierce among multiple operators, so many are increasingly looking at splitting costs, which they can do via bilateral tower-sharing deals. More popular is selling towers to specialist firms such as Eaton, which can then host multiple operators at the same site.

“When we look at a new market we’re really trying to get under the skin of operators’ plans to roll out things like 3G and LTE to provide good data coverage and then understand what’s the likely demand from the end user,” said Harper.

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