TELECOMS

US Cellular Mulls Tower Trade

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US Cellular CEO Kenneth Meyers resisted a suggestion from analysts the operator should sell its tower portfolio for cash, but hinted it would be interested in a strategic trade for spectrum assets.

Speaking at an investor conference, Meyers argued ownership provides US Cellular with key advantages, allowing it to move quickly and choose prime locations for its equipment on towers when deploying new technologies.

While acknowledging the company could gain a “big pot of money” from the sale of those assets, Meyers said the trade-off isn’t enough: “I would monetise it for another strategic asset, but I wouldn’t give up a strategic asset just for cash.”

He identified spectrum as the “lifeblood of any wireless carrier,” adding he “could see a scenario” in which the operator might offer to trade its towers to fill its requirements.

Though it offloaded nearly 600 towers in non-core markets in 2014, US Cellular still owns roughly 4,100 across its coverage area.

With infrastructure in high demand as 5G network construction progresses, analysts repeatedly suggested over the last year the company could sell its towers for a substantial sum. In June 2019, Yahoo Finance reported Morgan Stanley analysts estimated US Cellular could raise nearly US$3 billion.

Such a move would follow a long trend of US operators ceding control of infrastructure assets: Verizon sold the rights to 11,300 towers to American Tower for US$5 billion in 2015. AT&T inked a deal with Crown Castle in 2013, leasing out 9,100 of its towers for US$4.85 billion, and in October 2019 sold around 1,000 towers to Peppertree Capital for US$680 million.-Mobile World Live

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