By Mike Baños
MANILA, December 15, 2022 – The country’s largest integrated telco, PLDT Inc. (“PLDT”) (PSE: TEL) (NYSE: PHI), announced today that its subsidiaries, Smart Communications, Inc. (“Smart”) and Digitel Mobile Phils., Inc., have signed a Sale and Purchase Agreement in connection with the sale of 650 telecommunications towers and associated passive telecommunications infrastructure for approximately P 9.2 billion to Unity Digital Infrastructure Inc. (“Unity”). This price mirrors the value of the towers covered by the initial sale and leaseback transactions announced in April 2022.
Backed by Aboitiz InfraCapital and Partners Group, a leading global private markets investment firm (acting on behalf of its clients), Unity is an established independent tower company in the Philippines and an existing partner of the PLDT Group. The 650 towers being monetized are primarily located in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Concurrent with the execution of the Sale and Purchase Agreement for the sale of 650 telecommunications towers, Smart also entered into a Master Services Agreement with Unity on similar terms (including tenor and lease rate) as the Master Services Agreements previously entered into by Smart in relation to the sale and leaseback transactions announced in April 2022.
Upon completion of the transaction, Smart will lease back the towers for a period of 10 years at competitive terms as the anchor tenant. The sale and leaseback will be complemented by a new tower build commitment of 220 towers over the next few years enabling Smart to further expand its network and enhance customer experience.
This transaction supports the Philippine Department of Information and Communications Technology’s policy of promoting the use of common towers for a more cost efficient tower roll out across the country that will enhance connectivity and better customer experience.
The transaction is expected to generate a significant gain on disposal for PLDT.
Commenting on the transaction, PLDT Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said “This transaction deepens our relationship with Unity and its shareholders, while allowing PLDT to further unlock value, and providing us with additional financial and operational flexibility as we further expand across the Philippines.”
PLDT and Smart President and CEO Alfredo S. Panlilio added “As a result of this partnership with Unity, we expect further enhancements to our network quality, service excellence and customer experience across the Visayas and Mindanao. The improved connectivity will support the digitalization of the Philippines, bringing benefits to all Filipinos.”
Sabin M. Aboitiz, Aboitiz Group President and CEO, said “We believe that, through these digital portfolio expansion initiatives, Aboitiz will be able to help address the gaps in connectivity and Internet access in the country. It also positions us as a leader in digital infrastructure, which greatly contributes to our goal of becoming the Philippines’ first techglomerate.”
Aboitiz InfraCapital President and CEO Cosette Canilao further commented “Aligned with the Aboitiz Group’s Great Transformation journey, the acquisition of these assets further expands Unity’s digital footprint and presence in the country. This initiative will continue to support our commitment to improve and provide reliable connectivity to mobile network operators, which would, in turn, advance the growth of Philippines’ digital economy.”
Andrew Kwok, Managing Director, Head Private Infrastructure Asia, Partners Group, added: “The Philippines is a rising technology powerhouse and one of Asia’s fast growing digital economies. However, despite the country’s increasing reliance on digital technologies, it is behind other Southeast Asian countries in terms of network connectivity. We see Unity playing a key role in addressing this gap through building a tower portfolio, which is aligned with our vision of transforming it into the leading telecommunications infrastructure platform in the Philippines.”
Lastly, Unity CEO Robin Sarmiento echoed “We’re happy to have sealed this agreement with PLDT that will support Unity in its thrust of building robust and inclusive telecommunications infrastructure for the future. Our mission is to ensure better connectivity for all Filipinos across the country with the deployment of more towers in the next five years.”
Closing of the transaction will be staggered based on the number of towers being transferred and subject to customary closing conditions. All closings are expected to be completed in 2023.
UBS AG acted as exclusive financial adviser to PLDT and Smart on this transaction.