MTN Group Ltd. has begun talks with phone-tower operator IHS Holding Ltd. over South African towers the wireless carrier is seeking to sell in a deal valued at as much as $2 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Discussions with potential buyers could result in a joint venture in which Johannesburg-based MTN would retain a large stake, said people familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. American Tower Corp. has previously expressed interest in the towers.
IHS competes with American Tower and Helios Towers Africa for infrastructure as demand for wireless access increases in Africa. Phone companies are selling towers to lower the cost of their operations and preserve funds for feeding a boom in data usage.
Bridget Bhengu, a spokeswoman for MTN South Africa, declined to comment. Representatives for Lagos, Nigeria-based IHS and Boston-based American Tower declined to comment. MTN has about 19,000 sites in South Africa, according to Bhengu.
Although MTN favors a transaction with IHS, a deal hasn’t been agreed and may not happen, said one of the people.
MTN, Africa’s largest wireless carrier with 231 million subscribers across 22 markets, is overhauling its South African operations to regain market share from the country’s biggest phone carrier Vodacom Group Ltd.
MTN shares fell 1.2 percent to 194.93 rand at 4:04 p.m. in Johannesburg. American Tower slipped 0.1 percent to $100.35 in New York. IHS is closely held.
IHS is Africa’s largest independent phone-tower company and manages more than 23,000 towers across the continent, including about 15,000 in Nigeria. The company, which is 26 percent owned by French buyout firm Wendel SA, raised more than $2.6 billion in debt and equity in November. Its investors include Goldman Sachs Group Inc.