Britain’s biggest independent operator of telecommunications towers has begun secret preparations for a £5bn sale that would mean ditching a long-awaited London stock market listing.
Sky News has learnt that Arqiva, which is owned by a consortium of financial investors, is close to hiring bankers to advise on discussions with potential buyers.
The company has more than 8000 sites across the UK, with its mobile masts used by customers including EE, O2 and Vodafone.
Arqiva’s owners believe the advent and widespread introduction of 5G technology – referred to by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement – will significantly increase the number of masts required across the country.
A sale of the business, which has recovered from a major financial restructuring, would not get underway for several months, and some bankers believe it may not be completed until 2018.
Widely tipped to list on the London Stock Exchange (Other OTC: LDNXF – news) , Arqiva’s largest shareholder is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which holds 48%, while the Australian bank Macquarie directly owns a further 25%.
Arqiva is likely to draw interest from other large pension funds, sovereign investors and private equity groups which have launched long-term, lower-return pools of capital.
Its other customers include Sky (Frankfurt: 893517 – news) , the owner of Sky News, ITV (Frankfurt: A0BLQP – news) and Thames Water.
Employing more than 2000 people, Arqiva recorded revenues in its last financial year of nearly £900m, and until an agreement in September to sell a division to Virgin Media, it provided wifi services to business customers including the Nationwide building society (LSE: NBS.L – news) .
The company has replaced its management team in the last 18 months, bringing in Simon Beresford-Wylie, a former Nokia (Milan: 23568.MI – news) and Samsung executive, as its chief executive.
In May, Liliana Solomon joined Arqiva as its chief financial officer, following stints at Vodafone and T-Mobile.
The Macquarie fund which holds its Arqiva stake has a closed-end, making it the most likely shareholder to offload its shares in the near term.
Other investors could decide to roll over their stakes as part of any deal.
A flotation of the company remains a possibility.
An Arqiva spokesman declined to comment on the potential sale plan.