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Drives digital transformation and growth of DRC’s mobile network market

  • Supports the development of state-of-the-art telecom towers across the Democratic Republic of Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country
  • Increases last-mile connectivity in a mobile subscriber market projected to grow by 22 million subscribers by 2030

The Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF), a Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG) company, has committed US$30 million to Eastcastle Infrastructure (“Eastcastle”), a platform company that owns, operates, and develops shared telecom tower infrastructure in countries across Africa. The investment enables the purchase and development of telecom towers across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the country’s mobile network operators (MNOs).

Building on Eastcastle’s plan to expand its tower company (TowerCo) business in the DRC, and Nigeria – EAIF has participated in the International Finance Corporation (“IFC”) loan programme as an IFC B Lender. IFC and The Standard Bank of South Africa acted as co-lead arrangers.

The consortium’s funding operationalises Eastcastle’s growth strategy, which bolsters the company’s balance sheet and unlocks additional cash flow to finance the construction of built-to-suit (BTS) towers and power equipment for the provision of TowerCo services.

The investment will connect more communities across DRC, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, where despite rising usage, data adoption and a rapidly growing subscriber base, mobile and internet penetration is yet to reach its potential. Expanding mobile internet coverage across the country boosts access to 2G, 3G and 4G – transforming one of Africa’s most underdeveloped mobile markets and generating various economic opportunities for populations within rural and urban areas.

Better access to mobile internet harbours an estimated US$180 billion of additional output across Africa, where DRC is expected to contribute substantially. With 70% of its population under 30 – and growing fast – the country is expected to be home to the third-largest population on the continent by 2050. While a growing population and tech sector has the potential to transform demography, prohibitively high data costs have hindered data adoption and limited the prospect of achieving a greater impact on the local economy.

As mobile network operators (MNOs) pivot towards outsourcing assets, Eastcastle’s BTS model leverages the team’s expertise in the purchase, development, and operational efficiency of towers – opening up more private capital to invest in the quality and improved access to mobile internet connectivity. The shift from exclusive ownership to colocation allows MNOs to share towers – offering customers more choice and more affordable tariffs – the merits of a more competitive market.

Commitments to deepening connectivity serve a business model which benefits from a predictable revenue stream through long-term lease contracts with counterparties. Outsourcing towers to specialist TowerCos such as Eastcastle considerably improve tower density in the country, which currently lags behind its neighbours.

The model significantly improves service delivery and reliability to consumers, reduces data costs and expands coverage of higher-speed internet connections to larger segments of society, upgrading areas without a stable internet connection. EAIF’s investment backs the DRC’s national development plan as part of a commitment to developing digital infrastructure across the country, where 22 million new subscribers are expected to join the market by 2030, by which time the number of towers in the country will grow by 32%.

The loan is EAIF’s second capital commitment to a TowerCo operating in the DRC, signifying confidence in a sector positioned for onward growth. Building out Eastcastle’s footprint aligns with the PIDG objective to further the role of infrastructure in underpinning economic growth and delivering meaningful improvements in people’s lives – contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

The project’s impacts include benefits associated with improved connectivity, such as restructuring to a more inclusive economy by equitably distributing resources such as financial services, digital training, education, health and skills for businesses, SMEs, and SMEs micro-entrepreneurs – democratising access to markets. Beyond this, the commitment delivers positive development outcomes in DRC and beyond.

Commenting on the transaction, Esther Chan, Investment Director at Ninety One, the fund manager of the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, said: “With Eastcastle’s experience and expertise rooted in developing mobile connectivity in nascent markets, we are excited to witness the evolution of the tower sector and support an ambitious young population who will achieve given access to more opportunities. Backing this long-term vision emphasises the importance of a proactive and positive approach to laying the foundation for rapid expansion in high-potential markets such as the DRC.”

“DRC’s digital market has untapped potential and infrastructure sharing initiatives such as telecom towers are central to helping the country boost digital inclusion. IFC’s growing work with Eastcastle will play a key role in connecting more people in the DRC to the digital economy,” said Malick Fall, IFC Country Manager for the DRC.