Wind in Italy is reported to be inviting bids to acquire 11,000 of the towers that support its network as talks between its parent Vimpelcom and Hutchison regarding a merger with 3 Italia stall.
The potential deal in which a company would buy the towers and lease them back to Wind is likely to be worth at least €500 million and would help the operator reduce its debt, which stood at €9.6 billion at the end of June. Such a transaction would leave Wind with less than half of its masts.
Sources said that Wind’s advisers have approached more than 30 potential bidders including Spanish toll road operator Abertis and infrastructure companies EI Towers, Macquarie, Antin, American Tower and Crown Castle.
It is believed a shortlist of seven companies will be drawn up by the end of the month, with bids submitted thereafter.
The deal for Wind and 3 Italia to merge has been held up by governance issues as well as Wind’s hefty debt, with a Reuters source claiming an agreement could end up being delayed until the first quarter of 2015.
It was reported in June that 3 Italia’s owner Hutchison had resumed talks with Vimpelcom following the European approval of Telefonica’s benchmark acquisition of E-Plus in Germany, which, like the Wind-3 Italia deal, involved reducing the number of national operators from four to three.
However, it is understood that after investing €500 million in Wind earlier this year, and with instability in its core markets of Russia and Ukraine, Vimpelcom isn’t desperate to dispose of its Italian business.
The issue of control of the merged entity is also holding up talks: when talks resumed in June, Hutchison appeared to want majority control of the combined business, while Vimpelcom preferred an equal split.
At the end of the second quarter, 3 Italia had 9.8 million connections, according to GSMA Intelligence figures. This made it the smallest operator in Italy behind Vodafone (26.9 million connections), Telecom Italia (25.6 million) and Wind (21.9 million).
Going by these figures, the combination of 3 Italia and Wind would make the resultant business the market leader with just under 32 million connections.