Delmec Speakers in Singapore: TowerXChange Asia Meetup 2022
In a fitting close to an action-packed year, the Delmec team has just returned from another successful overseas event. Taking place in the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, TowerXchange Asia Meetup 2022 gathered together the many MNOs, towercos, investors, regulators, and suppliers who are shaping the telecommunications industry in Asia.
Guests included representatives of leading names in the region including Amplitel, Summit Digital, edotco Group, Edgepoint, SBA Towers, MIDC, Phil Towers, Frontier Towers and Indara. The full Delmec contingent was also in attendance, drawn by the opportunity to meet with our Asia-based clients and discuss the many changes afoot in the region.
The week kicked off with a ‘welcome back’ dinner, which helped to break the ice and soothe the effects of long haul travel. After that it was onto an exciting schedule of keynote speeches, roundtables, and group discussions. Now that the team are back in our HQ — and just about over their jetlag — they’ve been sharing some of the most interesting takeaways from their time in Singapore.
A Fast-Moving Market
The Asian market has seen unprecedented M&A activity of late, with TowerXchange estimating that some 366,000 towers have changed hands in recent years. This tidal wave of activity has brought with it many new towercos, some only weeks or months old. “All of these new operators are working at a rapid pace to analyse their portfolios, serve their customers, build efficient processes, and establish a sustainable business,” points out Orla Kane, Delmec’s Chief Commercial Officer. “The scale of activity and the speed of progression in this market is quite extraordinary.”
The Philippines in particular is undergoing a sizable shift in tower ownership, with five sale-and-leaseback deals over the last 12 months.
“There was a lot of discussion around further M&A opportunities as well as growth through BTS in the Philippines,” says Orla. “We can probably also expect to see consolidations due to the higher number of smaller towercos.”
The push towards 5G is partly responsible for this rapid acceleration of infrastructure in the region. Mohan Villavarayan, our Asia Regional Business Manager, moderated a panel discussion that traced how stakeholders might expect traditional tower company models to transition to the new age of 5G.
He also attended a ‘Spotlight on Malaysia’ roundtable that focused on 5G too, looking at the government’s Special Purpose Vehicle that’s managing the wholesale distribution of 5G bandwidth. “Interestingly, the participants were divided in their opinion on whether this was a positive or negative,” Mohan recalls. “Most of the Malaysian participants were of the view that we may see a single entity indirectly emerging as the dominant operator with control of the 5G spectrum allocation.”
The Drive Towards Digitisation
Part of the lineup included a working group that was tasked with discussing the many challenges and opportunities around digitising the business. These included automation, emerging technologies, asset management platforms, and digitised workflows.
Delmec CEO Kealan Delaney found these sessions particularly interesting, as he was keen to glean some insights into the pros and cons of the solutions available. “There is no doubt that digitisation is a fact of life now in our industry,” he says. “It’s just a matter of creating the right roadmap to take us from where we are to where we need to be.”
The participants generously shared their varied experiences with the audience. Mat Jones of Amplitel gave his insights into data integration with customer systems, emphasising how much of a priority it is for their business. Tim Knowles outlined how Frontier Towers Associates faced a different set of challenges, having scaled from four to 150 people and 600 to 4,000 towers in just two years. Their business model changed from BTS to SLB, which means they need more OEM, site monitoring, and automation.
When it comes to digitisation — whether that means automation, drone use, digital twins, or more — all agreed that securing team buy-in is the key to smooth adoption. “When developing new processes, it’s important to involve colleagues from the outset, as they’ll invest in the success of the initiative,” says Kealan.
Working globally means dealing with myriad countries’ legislative rules, technological limits, and cultural considerations. “It’s easy to get bogged down in granular detail,” says Kealan. “So as an industry we need to keep it simple, demonstrate true value, and find solutions to these constraints.”
Changing Business Models
The changing face of our industry is a popular topic at every telco event lately, and Asia Meetup 2022 was no different. Damien Kelly, our Head of Engineering and Innovation attended a roundtable that examined towercos and digital infracos.
“Interestingly, both ATC and Crown Castle contribute about 15% to 20% of their top line to non-traditional tower leases,” Damien points out. “This is major as it shows a shift to small cell solutions in an effort to densify the network in urban locations.” These solutions can provide lower-cost options for coverage, preventing the ratio-related losses that a typical macro site might experience.
Rural sites pose a different challenge, as the CapEx required makes them unattractive to many towercos. “There was much discussion around potentially reducing the cost by not overdesigning the solution at the beginning, but having the option to upgrade when a second tenant comes onboard,” Damien recalls.
One of the benefits of gathering so many international delegates in one room is the opportunity to hear the innovations at play in different countries. “One attendee outlined a government-backed scheme to push RAN-sharing in New Zealand, which allows a more attractive ROI,” Damien says. “Additionally, if an ultra-rural off-grid solution was rolled out, the towercos could train residents in the area to carry out general maintenance on the solar panels, further reducing the OpEx on the site. It makes for a very interesting proposition.”
Valuable Opportunities to Learn
The clue to the biggest benefit of Asia Meetup 2022 is in its name: the opportunity to meet with colleagues, clients, and customers from all over the world. While our teams are always glad to be invited to share our knowledge, we also recognise that listening is as important as speaking.
“The organisers ensured there was a good cross-section of executives participating in the roundtables, discussions, and keynote speeches,” Mohan says. “This helped us gain important insights into the tower industry in Asia, including its pain points and opportunities for growth.”
“There is no doubt that the Delmec contingent contributed enormously to the discussions in Singapore,” Kealan confirms. “They collated, analysed, and shared on-the-ground experience that has real impact on the international telco stage. But we also returned with a clearer picture of how to put those skills and that knowledge to work in a fast-changing environment — in Asia, Africa, and beyond.”