File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

London - IHS Holding, Africa’s largest independent phone tower company, has agreed to control a joint venture into which MTN will transfer as many as 9,151 of its towers in Nigeria.

The move will reduce MTN’s Nigerian operating costs and expand voice and data capacity, IHS said in a statement.

IHS will have full operational control of the new company.

The venture will invest more than $500 million (R5.4 billion) over four years in upgrades and maintenance to improve the quality of the Nigerian network.

IHS chief executive Issam Darwish said last year that he planned to more than double the company’s holdings to 20,000 towers managed by 2016.

The company completed its purchase of MTN’s towers in Rwanda and Zambia in May.

Bloomberg reported on talks for the Nigerian assets last month.

IHS agreed to buy 2,000 towers from Etisalat Nigeria last month.

Mobile phone carriers are selling the towers, which are more expensive to run in Africa because of the need for backup power sources.

MTN is looking for deals and has overhauled its management in its fastest growing markets as it looks for growth outside of South Africa, where revenue is being constrained by price cuts and regulations.

In March, IHS said it had raised more than $1.5 billion in the past 12 months from investors including Goldman Sachs and the IFC Global Infrastructure Fund to use for acquisitions and building out its network. - Bloomberg News