2019 South Africa M&A in the ICT Sector


2019 SA ICT Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) deal flow was defined by the acquisition of Vumatel at an estimated R8 billion. The top three deals by deal value were about the sale of telecoms and data centre infrastructure. Six of the eight infrastructure deals involved fibre network operators being acquired.

2019 saw the end of the strong and aggressive M&A strategy used by Blue Label Telecoms, EOH and HeroTel. In 2019, Blue Label Telecoms and EOH sold assets to raise capital to offset long term debt, whereas HeroTel simply ran out of attractive assets to buy.

In 2020, the M&A deals will be defined by companies seeking to add strategic assets to their existing portfolio. Potential deal flow includes the sale of Cell C, the likely sale of the tower portfolios of either MTN or Vodacom or both, and the ongoing select acquisition of fibre network operators and retail service providers by their larger competitors.

2019 M&A Deal Count

Over the past three years, the number of reported ICT M&A deals has dropped from 41 (2017) to 35 (2019). Deal classification system:

  • Networks & Infrastructure category covers deals that involve the acquisition of companies who own network and/or infrastructure (e.g., data centres, fibre networks).
  • Customers & Channels category covers the acquisition of companies that have large customer bases or channels and distribution assets.
  • Capabilities & Skills category covers deals that typically involve IT Services.

This decline has resulted from the slowdown by companies which previously drove M&A activity.

  • From 2016 to 2018, HeroTel was a major driver of M&A through its aggressive acquisition of regional wireless internet service providers (WISPs). In 2019, HeroTel only concluded one transaction. The large decline in network deals resulted from HeroTel’s winding down of its acquisition spree.
  • After many years of driving M&A, EOH in 2018 began the process of selling subsidiaries and equity it held in companies. The selloff gained momentum in 2019.

Interestingly, six of the eight network infrastructure deals involved fibre network operators. There is no single large investor or network operator who has been buying up fibre network assets. Instead, the market has seen selective buying of fibre network assets.

The higher volume, but generally lower priced deals, involving the buying of IT companies, continued in 2019. The number of reported deals has risen from 18 in 2017 to 22 in 2019. It is rare to see IT deals that surpass R1 billion in deal value. Thus, the R1 billion price tag paid by Vodacom Group for its 51% equity in IoT.NXT stands out. It is difficult to unpack this deal’s valuation drivers but it does seem that Vodacom Group may have paid a premium for the equity. There is still some hype around IoT which may have influenced the price tag.

In terms of media deals, the purchase of media assets by Lebashe Investment Group from Tiso Blackstar Group for R800 million is another standout deal. There are very few media deals undertaken in South Africa. This is a reflection of the local media market concentration.

2019 Deals not Concluded

There were two deals that were not concluded: the sale of WebAfrica (an ISP) and Vox (a fibre network operator and a service provider).

The asking price for WebAfrica was not met and thus the sale was aborted. The reported asking price was R300 million while bidders submitted bids in the R170 to R220 million range.

A similar situation arose with Vox where it was reported that an equity sale was imminent, but no deal was concluded. Subsequently, a Vox shareholder, Investec, sold its shareholding to the existing shareholders and a new management shareholding scheme was put in place.

Towards the end of 2019, Telkom Group offered to buy Cell C, but the shareholders of Cell C rejected the Telkom approach. Had a deal been concluded, then this deal would have been the largest deal reported for the year.

2019 Top Three Deals

The top ten deals accounted for an estimated M&A transaction value of R18 billion, while the top three deals accounted for R16.6 billion. The top three deals in 2019 are:

  1. The largest deal is estimated to have been the CIVH acquisition of Vumatel at an estimated value of R8 billion . We included both the first and second transactions in this estimate.
  2. This was followed by Berkshire Partners estimated R5.6 billion purchase of 51% equity in Terraco from Permira. The estimated deal value is broadly based on limited information published about the deal.
  3. The most surprising valuation is the R1.028 billion paid by Vodacom Group for 51% equity in a young four-year old IoT solutions company IoT.NXT. The surprise element is based on the fact that the value of projects undertaken by IoT.NXT to date does not support this valuation. The purchase price must have been based to a degree on anticipated future revenue flow, given IoT market expectations.

The unconfirmed sale of the Standard Bank data centre to Liquid Telecoms is a significant deal. However, there is no published information that indicates that this deal has been concluded.

2020 M&A Outlook

We expect to see the following deal flow in 2020:

  • TowerCo deal with MTN/Vodacom towers: Both operator groups have disposed of tower portfolios in some of their other country markets of operations. SA remains a significant market where both operators own their towers. Over the years there have been rumours about the sale of the respective tower portfolios. We expect that an international towerco with a strong local BEE partner will likely acquire the tower portfolio of either MTN or Vodacom or both in SA.
  • Fibre network operator M&A: There will be continued M&A activity with the smaller fibre network operators being purchased by the larger network operators. A likely M&A target remains Octotel, given its strong position in the Western Cape.
  • IT Service Providers M&A: This will continue through 2020. The focus will see innovative and strong market position players being targeted in a M&A drive.
  • CIVH acquisitions: CIVH has indicated interest in expanding their infrastructure business. This may lead to CIVH buying into a data centre business and/or into a wireless network operator.
  • Blue Label Telecoms and EOH: Both companies will likely continue to seek to sell assets as they strive to raise capital to improve their balance sheet.

We will not see single companies drive aggressive M&A strategies. Rather the M&A deals will be defined by companies seeking to added strategic assets or skills to their existing portfolio.

Contact Andre Wills (andre@africaanalysis.co.za) for further information on this topic.

Helios Towers – Entry into the South African Market

Helios Towers (HT) was founded in 2009 and concluded its first tower sales and lease back deal (S&LB) deal with Millicom in Ghana. Subsequently, HT has undertaken similar deals in Congo Brazzaville, DRC, and Tanzania. In 2018, Helios Towers entered the South African market.


HT’s principal business lies in building, acquiring and operating telecommunications towers that are capable of accommodating and powering the needs of multiple tenants. These tenants are typically large MNOs and other telecommunications providers who in turn provide wireless voice and data services, primarily to end-consumers and businesses.

HT uses the sales and lease back method of buying towers from mobile network operators.


By end 2018:

  • HT had acquired 82% and had built 18% of its total tower stock (total towers 6 745) since commencing operations in Africa. 
  • In 2018, there were 13 549 tenants that yielded an average tenancy across its towers of 2.01x.
  • In 2018, HT earned an average of USD4 435 per month per tower, or USD2 208 per customer per tower per month.

South Africa

In 2018 HT entered into a partnership with Vulatel (Pty) Ltd and formed Helios Towers SA (HTSA) with HT owning 66% and Vulatal 34%. Vulatel has been in operation since 2017. The company acquired Dimension Data’s fibre and wireless division (formerly Plessey South Africa).

Subsequently, Vulatel acquired Gio Construction, a provider of network deployment and maintenance services.

Contact Andre Wills by e-mail to discuss the profile or answer any queries you may have.

Potential Sale of Dimension Data MEA

There has been market speculation that Dimension Data Middle East Africa (DD MEA) is for sale. This analyst note explores the potential sale of DD MEA, reviews the corporate activity of 2017, explores possible sales scenarios and highlights potential buyers.

2010 NTT Group buys Dimension Data Group

In 2010, the NTT Group acquired Dimension Data Group for USD3.2 billion. At the time, the acquisition was stated to be part of NTT’s global strategy to gain a foothold in emerging economies.

Since the acquisition, DD MEA has embarked on its own M&A drive, both in South Africa and in the rest of Africa. Examples of these acquisitions are:

  • South Africa: Agile Business Solutions, Antfarm, Britehouse, ContinuitySA, jFactory, MWEB Business, MWEB Connect. Xpedia Fusion.
  • Africa: DD MEA acquired various ISPs in other countries. The most notable was the acquisition of AccessKenya Group.

The acquisition drive may be seen within the framework of Dimension Data’s mandate (from NTT Group) to double its revenues over a period of five years.

NTT Group Strategic Drive

NTT Group is driving profitability by focussing on improvement in the international business operations profitability. In 2016, various NTT Group subsidiaries instituted activities to raise profitability. Against this background, NTT Group has explored options on how to improve the profitability of DD MEA. This includes the potential sale of DD MEA.

In terms of NNT Group revenue, and based on Q1 2017 financial results, DD MEA is estimated to represent 0.25% of the NTT Group revenue. The charts below show the Q1 revenue contribution from Dimension Data Group and Dimension Data MEA:

2017 DD Revenue

As shown, DD MEA makes a very small contribution to NTT Group. Thus, disposing of DD MEA would not significantly impact NTT Group revenue. Furthermore, should NTT Group dispose of DD MEA, then we can read into this disposal that the NTT Group does not see Africa as an important region within their global strategy.

2017 Dimension Data MEA Corporate Activity

Following the press reporting on the potential sale of DD MEA, a number of interesting corporate activities have been reported. The following list of DD MEA corporate activities covers the period June to August 2017:


2017 DD MEA Coporate Timeline

  • NTT Group Seeking to sell Dimension Data MEA
    • In June 2017, press reports have indicated that NTT Group is seeking to sell DD MEA for around USD800 million (or R10.6 billion @ R13.22/USD). In August, press articles further indicated that MTN Group and Vodacom Group were interested in acquiring DD MEA. At the time, press articles indicated that DD MEA may be considering the sale of Internet Solutions and VAST Networks as two separate transactions.
    • Another option raised in the press articles was that the original Dimension Data founders were considering a management buy back, followed by a listing of the company on the stock exchange.
  • Exit Convergence Partners, the BEE Partner
    • In August 2017, Convergence Partners sold its 25% shareholding in DD MEA and exited the company. Convergence Partners indicated that this exit was part of the original deal struck with DD MEA when Convergence Partners acquired the equity stake.
    • DD MEA indicated that they plan to announce a new BEE partner in October 2017.
  • Unbundling: DD MEA sells the old “Plessey” business
    • In August 2017, DD MEA entered into an agreement to sell its fibre and wireless businesses to Vulatel. The fibre and wireless businesses previously traded as Plessey South Africa prior to its integration into DD MEA.
    • Vulatel is a majority-black-women-owned start-up that focuses on the telecommunication and energy sectors.
  • Unbundling: DD MEA sells Dimension Data Nigeria and Dimension Data Ghana
    • In August 2017, DD MEA sold Dimension Data Nigeria and Dimension Data Ghana to Synergy Capital Managers. Synergy Capital Managers is a Lagos-based firm. The acquisition was made through its Synergy Private Equity Fund (SPEF), which is a USD100 million private equity fund targeting high-growth companies in West Africa.
    • This development sees DD MEA exit two key markets.
    • Further country market exits may be on the cards.

Dimension Data stated that the “Plessey” sale is part of its strategy to grow and strengthen its core business. It also plans to move into new areas, including data analytics, IoT, hybrid IT, digital workplace, and cyber security.

Sale of DD MEA Scenarios

The corporate activity in August 2017 indicates that DD MEA is currently undergoing a restructuring process through unbundling and selling non-core businesses. It is likely that DD MEA will dispose of other non-core businesses in SA and in other countries. It is noteworthy to comment that Internet Solutions underwent a cost-cutting exercise in 2016 that resulted in a restructured business with fewer employees.

If DD MEA is to be sold, we can identify three sales scenarios:

2017 DD MEA Sales Scenarios

There is talk of some form of partnership deal, but unpacking such a deal requires making quite a few assumptions about how the deal is structured, who is the partner, etc. Therefore, it is not covered in this analyst note.

# Scenario 1: DD MEA unbundled and sold as separate business units

DD MEA has already begun a process of unbundling and divesting from businesses. Based on the composition of DD MEA, we foresee the following three businesses being sold:

  • Internet Solutions (including the recently acquired MWeb Connect)
  • VAST Networks (wholesale WiFi) + AlwaysOn (Retail WiFi)
  • Dimension Data MEA (remaining businesses, this had already started with the sale of country operations and the old Plessey business)
  • Further disposal of country operations outside of SA

Internet Solutions is a valuable business that the large SA telecoms operators would be interested in. VAST Networks would be of interest to WiFi operators such as HeroTel, while the remaining DD MEA businesses would be of interest to various IT Service Providers. There have been press reports indicating that MTN Group is considering an offer of USD600 million for Internet Solutions.

However, it remains to be seen whether DD MEA is cleaning up its portfolio of businesses to improve profitability, or whether it has embarked on a full unbundling strategy with the objective of selling the individual businesses.

# Scenario 2: DD MEA sold as a single going business with no further unbundling

Selling DD MEA as a single going business unit represents the most attractive opportunity to a large group seeking to acquire a significant presence in the IT services market and fixed telecoms retail market in SA.

If we assume that only larger groups, based on revenue, can afford the price tag, then the following companies would qualify (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • EOH
    • EOH is similar in size to DD MEA.
    • EOH has a history of M&A activity. This would represent a significant diversification into fixed retail telecoms.
  • Liquid Telecom Group (does not have a larger revenue stream, but it would be an interesting strategic move)
    • Liquid Telecom Group has  sold history of M&A activity, with the largest M&A being the acquisition of Neotel.
    • However, the Group may not be able to raise the funds to acquire DD MEA. If it did, then the acquisition would boost Liquid Telecom in the local market.
  • MTN Group
    • This would be a good fit, and MTN Group can afford the price tag.
    • The acquisition would augment the MTN Business, boost the the IT services business and elevate MTN’s position in the fixed retail telecoms market.
    • However, the purchase/sale of Afrihost indicates that there may well be other operational issues that makes such an acquisition a challenge.
  • Telkom Group
    • This would be a good fit, and Telkom Group has undertaken local M&A activity (BCX).
    • However, it may be too soon after the BCX acquisition.
    • We would expect that competition issues would be raised at the Competition Commission regarding the acquisition of Internet Solutions.
  • Vodacom Group
    • This would be a good fit, and Vodacom Group can afford the price tag.
    • The acquisition would augment Vodacom Business, boost the the IT services business and elevate Vodacom’s position in the fixed retail telecoms market.
  • International IT Service Providers
    • One of the international IT Service Providers operating in SA can buy DD MEA.
    • However, this would indicate that they plan to become more active in the fixed retail telecoms market through Internet Solutions. However, the buyer can sell Internet Solutions after the completion of the transaction.

The rest of the IT Service Providers (in terms of revenue) are smaller than DD MEA, and thus are not considered in the above list, but this does not mean that those IT Service Providers would not be interested in acquiring DD MEA. Furthermore, private equity firms may also be interested in acquiring DD MEA.

# Scenario 3: Management Buyout and Listing

Unless there is a first right of refusal to buy back DD MEA, we expect that this would be a challenging management buyout deal, given the price tag of R10.5 billion.


The corporate activity indicates that DD MEA is undergoing a restructuring process. This supports the speculation that NTT is preparing DD MEA to be sold, or at the very least trimmed to a more profitable business unit.

DD MEA is one of the top five IT Service providers in SA, while  Internet Solutions is a significant competitor in its markets. The purchase of DD MEA and its respective businesses (e.g. Internet Solutions) by a telecoms operator or an IT Service Provider would result in  fundamental change to  the competitive dynamics in the South African ICT market.

EOH, The Most Prolific M&A Company in the SA ICT Sector

EOH Holdings Limited (EOH) is the most prolific M&A company in the SA ICT sector. Analysis of the revenue streams over the period 2011 to 2016 shows that by FY2016, EOH had earned 63% of its revenues from the cumulative acquisitions it had made over this period. The EOH challenge, however, is how to continue to deliver such impressive revenue growth over the coming years.

The Competition Commission Announcements in November 2016

The Competition Commission recommended to the Competition Tribunal that two proposed transactions by EOH, be approved without conditions. These transaction are the acquisitions by EOH of PIA Solar South Africa (Pty) Ltd (PIA) and Scan RF Projects (Pty) Ltd (Scan RF).

These announcements caught our attention as they highlighted EOH’s ongoing and relentless M&A strategy, a strategy that has been part of the EOH “DNA” going back to the year 2000.  This commentary provides an assessment of the EOH M&A activity over the period 2011 to 2016.

EOH Revenue Analysis

EOH reported revenues of R12.76 billion for its financial year ending July 2016. The 2015/2016 annual revenue growth was 31%, while the five-year compound annual growth (CAGR) was 39%. The following graph shows the EOH revenue reported from 2000 to 2016.

EOH Revenue 22.11.2016

Source: EOH Annual Reports 2004 to 2016

Revenue earned from M&A

A cautionary note –  EOH does not provide a detailed revenue breakdown of its individual subsidiaries, therefore we needed to make some assumptions. The value of this analysis serves to illustrate the revenue impact of the M&A strategy, as compared to accurately accounting for the different revenue streams.

We set-up the following revenue model to estimate the acquisition revenue contribution over the period 2011 to 2016:

  • We modelled the 2011 organic revenue per year from 2011 to 2016, this is defined as the “Core Revenue”;
  • We modelled the 2011 acquisition revenue per year from 2011 to 2016 + incremental acquisition revenue per year, with each year projected to 2016, this is defined as the “Cumulative Acquisition Revenue”; and
  • For simplicity, we assumed all revenue streams grew at the same annual growth rate per year.

Using this modelling approach, we calculated that in 2016, EOH had earned 63% of its revenue from cumulative acquisitions made over this period. The balance of 37% was earned from the growth of the 2011 organic revenue.

The following graph shows the two revenue streams.

EOH Revenue Analysis 22.11.2016

Source: Africa Analysis modelling of revenue streams

The CAGRs over the period 2011 to 2016 are as follows:

  • 2011 organic revenue          19%
  • 2011 acquisition revenue   77%

As shown, EOH’s revenue has enormously benefitted from its M&A strategy.

Two Year EOH M&A Track Record

The following diagram shows the M&A activity over the past 24 months. The M&A activity is shown in the quarter that the transaction was completed (as compared to the date when the transaction was announced). The M&A activity underlines EOH’s position as the most prolific M&A-driven ICT company operating in the SA market.

EOH Two Year M&A 22.11.2016

Source: Africa Analysis assessment of the M&A reported by EOH (2015 and 2016)

Shown in the M&A timeline are the transactions undertaken outside of South Africa. International M&A is to be expected as it is unlikely that EOH can continue to grow revenue, through M&A undertaken in the South African IT sector, at the rate that it has grown its revenue. There are just not enough companies that EOH can buy to continue to demonstrate the impressive annual revenue growth that it has shown.

The following figure shows a high-level application of the Africa Analysis M&A diagnostic model. This model determines the strategic intent of the acquisition regarding scale, customers, revenue and markets.

EOH M&A Analysis 22.11.2016

Source: ©Africa Analysis M&A Diagnostic Analysis 2016

Overall, EOH has driven the growth in finding new customers either in existing markets or new markets. EOH has also driven the acquisition of new capabilities that can be used to serve new and existing customers. The analysis also shows the drive to expand into adjacent markets.

Diversification Strategy

These acquisitions demonstrate the ongoing EOH diversification strategy. A review of some of the acquisitions made over the past 24 months shows the scope of diversification:

  • SCAN RF                          : Wireless infrastructure
  • PIA Solar                          : Alternative energy
  • JOAT Group                   : Civil engineering – water infrastructure
  • Mehleketo                       : Rail infrastructure
  • Paterson Candy           : Civil engineering – water infrastructure
  • Grid Control                  : Energy management services

EOH is building capacity in infrastructure technology – water, electricity and transportation.

Can EOH Sustain such revenue growth?

The key question is whether EOH can sustain such aggressive revenue growth? First, let’s explore possible revenue growth and M&A scenarios:

Scenario 1: If we assume the same CAGR of 39% for the next five years, and FY2016 core revenue grows at 19% per annum, then:

  • By 2021, EOH would reach R67 billion, or 5.3x its FY2016 revenue.
  • EOH will need to buy companies that contribute R27 billion in new revenue over this period
  • On average, EOH will need to add the equivalent of 15% in new revenues through M&A each year. EOH has shown an average of 15% new revenue growth per year over the five -year period. However, in 2016, the new revenue contribution from M&A was 10%.

Scenario 2: If we assume the average 2016 revenue growth of 31% for the next five years, and FY2016 core revenue grows at 19% per annum, then:

  • By 2021, EOH would reach R49 billion, or 3.9x its FY2016 revenue.
  • EOH will need to buy companies that contribute R14 billion in new revenue over this five-year period.
  • On average, EOH will need to add the equivalent of 9% in new revenues through M&A each year. EOH has shown an average of 15% new revenue growth per year over the five -year period. However, in 2016, the new revenue contribution from M&A was 10%.

Scenario 3: If we assume the FY2016 revenue growth of 10% for the next five years, and FY2016 core revenue grows at 10% per annum, then:

  • By 2021, EOH would reach R35 billion, or 2.7x its FY2016 revenue.
  • EOH will need to buy companies that contribute R12 billion in new revenue over this five-year period.
  • The assumption is that EOH adds the equivalent of 10% in new revenues through M&A each year. EOH has shown an average of 15% new revenue growth per year over the five -year period. However, in 2016, the new revenue contribution from M&A was 10%.

These scenarios show the outcome of revenue and M&A activity assumptions. Based on the scenarios, EOH will need to maintain an aggressive M&A strategy over the next five years to deliver similar revenue growth as it has shown over the past five years. Depending on how aggressive EOH sees its growth, it will need to add new revenue derived from M&A of between R12 and R27 billion of the next five years.

This is quite a challenge, and we expect that EOH will need to either seek international M&A targets and/or diversify into adjacent markets in the SA market.


The revenue analysis shows that EOH has successfully grown its revenue through an M&A strategy. Indexing revenues to FY2011, shows that by FY2016, EOH had earned 63% of its revenues from the cumulative acquisitions it had made over this period.

The EOH challenge, however, is how to continue to deliver such impressive revenue growth over the coming years.


Vumatel/Fibrehoods deal underlines the FTTH Economics of Scale Factor


Economics of scale is a critical success factor for open access fibre networks. Achieving scale gives open access network providers a strong competitive advantage. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is a critical tool used by fibre network operators in achieving scale. The Vumatel acquisition of Fibrehoods represents the latest M&A deal in the open access fibre market. This deal continues the fibre M&A trend seen in 2016.

Vumatel buys Fibrehoods

In 2014, Vumatel entered the Fibre To The Home (FTTH) market. While there were existing fibre network operators, the entry of Vumatel kick started the entry of many new operators to the market. This in turn triggered a rapid fibre land grab. By March 2016, we estimate there were 196 thousand houses passed. Note this number excludes VDSL subscribers, as in some markets VDSL, who use FTTC, are included in the reported FTTH numbers. The figure below shows the rapid growth in FTTH houses passed over the last two years.

FFTH Market Oct 2016

Scale is critical for an open access fibre network operator

Fibre network scale is a critical success factor for an open access network provider, with scale being measured by the size of its FTTH network. The network operator’s expanding network footprint drives sales momentum among retail service providers using its network. In effect, the open access network operator offers more opportunities for the retail service providers to sell retail services.
The key benefit is that FTTH scale also translates into economic scale in that the operators balance sheet grows stronger. Economic scale means that the operator can access cheaper capital with better terms than smaller operators. This is a strategic competitive advantage as building out FTTH networks is a capital-intensive business.

Open access operators can gain scale through a combination of a build and/or buy strategy:

  • Build strategy: In terms of building out FTTH networks, we foresee a total of R12 billion being invested in open access FTTH networks over the next three to four years. This estimate is based on market announcements and our assessment of capital required to deploy the announced fibre networks. This strategy works well when an operator deploys fibre in areas where there is no existing fibre network to compete against.
  • Buy strategy: We have seen the buy strategy exercised over the past two years, with a significant ramp-up in 2016 MA activity.

M&A is part of the fibre network strategy

“M&A is a key tool used by fibre network operators to expand their networks”

Fibre network operators typically start out as niche operators, who focus on a specific high-income geographical residential area. As the operator gains market traction, it seeks new areas to deploy fibre thus driving the scale of its business.
In doing so, it faces two challenges: (1) funding the network expansion, and/or (2) deploying fibre in an area where there is an existing competing network.

  • Funding: Network operators either sell equity or take on long term debt to fund network expansion. We have seen both options exercised in South Africa. For example, Investec acquired an equity stake in Vumatel and Rainbow Capital acquired an equity stake in Metrofibre Networx.
  • Competitive: The operator can choose to (1) buy the existing network operator, (2) reach a network sharing agreement, or (3) decide to not enter that geographical market. Typically, we see options (1) and (3) being taken. Network sharing and co-build strategies are seen on long-haul fibre routes.

In SA, we have yet to see a new FTTH entrant build FTTH infrastructure in areas where another new entrant has already built out their FTTH network. We have seen new entrants build-out in competition to Telkom’s DSL network. Part of the reason is that there are enough attractive geographic areas for new entrants to choose from. This has led to an explosion in new FTTH players over the last two years that in turn has resulted in a fibre land grab.

There are a limited number of early win attractive areas wherein to deploy fibre. To gain scale and to enter these attractive markets means that the SA fibre operators must move into the M&A phase, and the market has done just that.

The following table (as at 25 Oct 2016) lists the M&A activity in the FTTH market. As can be seen, we have moved aggressively into an M&A phase. Note that the table excludes the establishment of fibre network operators and only focuses on M&A.

FTTH M&A Deals

Source: Company press releases 2015 to 2016, the Date column represents the year in which the deal was completed. It is not the deal announcement date. The Not Complete comment implies that the deal is still awaiting final regulatory/competition approval.

Here are noteworthy fibre deals that were terminated:

  • Vodacom offered to buy Neotel, the deal was terminated in Q1 2016 given the regulatory hurdles that the deal encountered.

The table shows that the year 2016 will be remembered as the year that FTTH M&A commenced.

The FTTH M&A activity seen in SA is reflective of global trends. Global market observations show that consolidation is a natural part of the FTTH market. Examples of such country markets are the UK and USA.

Fibre Network M&A Outlook

Long term sustainability in the open access FTTH network market is defined by one key word “scale”. Scale is generated through network expansion. Operators drive scale through a combination of a build/buy strategy. To date, we see little evidence of operators building competitive fibre networks in the same geographical area.

Furthermore, the South African National Integrated ICT Policy White paper (Oct 2016) promotes open access networks with the objective of limiting duplicate infrastructure build. We therefore expect that M&A will continue to be an important tool to grow network scale. In addition, we expect that more private capital will be attracted to the fibre market.

In 2017 and 2018, we expect further consolidation in the FTTH market. Small open access network operators, who cannot generate enough scale, will ultimately close or be acquired.

The M&A fibre market theme for network operators will be: buy or be bought.

Blue Label Telecoms – Cell C Deal Update

In October 2016, Blue Label Telecoms announced that it had increased its offer to R5.5 bn for 45% equity in Cell C. In December 2015, the company offered R4 bn for 30% equity. The new offer does not change the fundamentals of the refinancing deal. We expect that the new deal will not bring any new added benefit to Cell C.

October 2016 Announcement

 In a SENS note (5/10/2016), Blue Label Telecoms announced that it had increased its proposed equity purchase in Cell C, and now offers to buy 45% for R5.5 billion. The acquisition will be made through its wholly owned subsidiary The Prepaid Company Proprietary Limited (“TPC”).  The R5.5 billion will be made up from the following cash sources:

  • R2.0 billion via a vendor consideration placement with NET1 UEPS Technologies Inc, through its South African subsidiary Net1 Applied Technologies South Africa Proprietary Limited, at a price of R16.96 per share, which represents a 10% discount to the 30 business day weighted average traded price; and
  • R3.5 billion from available cash and funding facilities.

New Refinancing Structure

Under the new deal, the equity structure will look as follows:

  • the subscription by TPC (The Prepaid Company Proprietary Limited) for shares comprising 45% of Cell C’s total issued share capital for a subscription consideration of R5.5 billion;
  • the subscription by MS10 (senior management of Cell C) for shares comprising 10% of Cell C’s total issued share capital;
  • the subscription by MS15 (Albanta Trading 109 Proprietary Limited) for shares comprising 15% of Cell C’s total issued share capital; and
  • the subscription by 3C (3C Telecommunications Proprietary Limited) for shares comprising 30% of Cell C’s total issued share capital, for a subscription consideration equal to an amount which will result in Cell C’s net borrowings being reduced to a maximum of R8.0 billion at the time of receipt by Cell C of the respective subscription considerations.

In the December 2015 deal announcement, Cell C staff were going to buy 29.42% equity, split in two tranches of 11.77% and 17.65%. Under the current deal, we assume that MS10 and MS15 refer to these two tranches of equity purchases for the Cell C Staff. The Cell staff will now own 25% equity in the operator.

Similarly, according to the December deal announcement, 3C was going to retain 35% equity. Under the new deal announcement, 3C will only retain 30% equity in Cell C.

The following diagram sets out the proposed new shareholding of Cell C:

Blue Label Telecoms - Cell C - October 2016.jpg

Source: Blue Label Telecoms SENS 5/10/2016

Deal impact on Cell C

This deal is about refinancing Cell C, reducing its long term borrowings to a maximum of R8 billion, while providing a strategy for the 3C Telecoms shareholders to reduce their risk and exposure through Cell C. The deal offers the opportunity for Cell C management and staff to participate at an equity level, while it provides Blue Label Telecoms an investment opportunity in an industry they understand.

The deal will improve Cell C’s profit after tax (PAT) margin by reducing interest payments. However, it will have no significant impact on the operator’s operational performance. The deal gives Cell C better access to future funding through Blue Label Telecoms.

Deal impact on the market

We don’t expect the deal to radically change Cell C’s strategy. Cell C has already embarked on an aggressive subscriber acquisition strategy.

The challenge for Cell C is that it has not translated its successful subscriber acquisition into revenue market share. Cell C has grown its market share, but its share of the mobile revenue has not grown in proportion to its subscriber growth.

Over the coming year, we expect Cell C to focus on growing its revenue market share by attracting the higher value customers to its network. Cell C is using new product innovation and pricing to draw in high value customers.

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