Japan’s SoftBank, which owns roughly 80% of Sprint, said it is creating a U.S. infrastructure joint venture in partnership with Australia’s Lendlease. Called Lendlease Towers, the company will develop and acquire rooftop and tower assets. The JV’s goal is a $5 billion telecom asset portfolio.
Lendlease Towers will start with a $400 million equity investment, with each partner contributing 50%. Over time, SoftBank and Lendlease want to bring in other equity investors. The companies said the initial $400 million has been allocated to fund the acquisition and strategic restructure of approximately 8,000 existing U.S. sites.
Sprint is expected to be a tenant on most of the initial 8,000 Lendlease sites. Sprint is the nation’s number four carrier by subscribers, and has spent very conservatively on its tower infrastructure in recent years. However, the company recently announced a new multiple-input multiple-output antenna that will require trips to tower tops and rooftop sites for installation.
Lendlease said it wants to work with all the major U.S. carriers. The arrival of a new tower company could be welcome news for the carriers, who have been pressuring the existing tower companies to reduce rents. Shares of Crown Castle, American Tower and SBAC Communications all opened lower this morning following the SoftBank/Lendlease announcement.
The tower stocks were already under some pressure due to widespread expectation that Sprint and T-Mobile US will merge, enabling the companies to decommission redundant cell sites. Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche of Wells Fargo wrote that SoftBank’s news could make a Sprint/T-Mobile deal even more impactful for the tower companies.
“We had thought if (when?) this deal is announced then the towers could take a hit if Neville Ray (CTO of TMUS) gets the pulpet and talks about network savings that could drive the synergies. He may have been given a much bigger arrow here in that quiver,” Fritzsche wrote.
Of the four nationwide carriers, only T-Mobile US still has a significant tower portfolio. T-Mobile Towers controls more than 1,500 sites nationwide, according to the company website.
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