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Phoenix frees telecoms of tower management headache

Published:Tuesday | October 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A Digicel cellular tower with wind sensors at the wind resource assessment site in Manchester. File
Even with a cell tower, Petersville residents say they have terrible reception.

American company Phoenix Tower International will continue its growth spurt in the region with more than 6,000 towers under management, a near-fourfold increase in a year.

The company, based in Florida, has quietly become a major owner-manager of telecoms assets in the English and Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Phoenix, founded in 2013, now describes itself as a leader in tower management in the region.

"But we were not always the leader in the region in terms of site count," said Marketing Manager Cat Drettmann. "We are focused on expanding in countries with growing wireless needs, where we can be helpful to our customers and other business partners."

The size of Phoenix's network nearly quadrupled in a year from 1,600 to more than 6,000 towers. But the company is not saying just how big a network it aims to manage.

"We don't have a specific number in mind," Drettmann said.

Earlier this month, Phoenix acquired 451 towers from Digicel for US$90 million and two days after the Jamaican deal was announced, it acquired 1,039 towers worth some US$170 million from a subsidiary of Altice Europe in Dominican Republic.

Phoenix' assets include more than 3,500 sites owned or operated under contract and an additional 2,500 managed under marketing rights agreement. The company also holds 974 kilometres of fibre and other wireless infrastructure and related sites throughout Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, French West Indies, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the United States, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Phoenix acquired the Digicel assets through its local subsidiary Phoenix Tower Jamaica,

whose directors are Phoenix International founder and CEO Dagan Kasavana, Chief Financial Officer Juan Carlos Barreto, and Chairman Timothy Culver.

Phoenix financed its recent growth spurt from loans. Last August, it secured a five-year senior secured credit facility totalling US$109.3 million, which recapitalised the company. At that time, Phoenix managed 1,600 sites, mainly in the United States. In April 2017, the company secured another US$120-million loan from Scotiabank.

"We are very happy with the debt and equity partners we have, and I think it speaks to the strength of Phoenix's team and the markets. We have a long-term view of the business, and our equity and debt partners have a fantastic reputation of being excellent stewards of capital and managers of assets, so we are quite satisfied," said the privately held company.

The sale and leaseback arrangement in Jamaica sees Phoenix assuming ownership and management rights over 451 of Digicel's wireless communication tower sites in Jamaica.

Phoenix said the Caribbean provides a growth opportunity, as towers are generally owned by the telecoms. The company found acceptance in its proposition to manage these towers and thereby remove the liability from the books of the telecoms.

"There have not historically been independent wireless infrastructure owners in the Caribbean and we wanted to change that, given what we believe was untapped market potential," Phoenix explained.

"We allow carriers to focus on wireless growth and their network, while we provide the backbone to the deployment."