May 5, 2016 — Vertical Bridge has acquired 275 sites and secured a build to suit arrangement for new towers from Alaska Wireless Network (AWN), the wholly owned subsidiary of wireless carrier General Communications, Inc. for $91 million. The transaction is valued at approximately 20 times tower cash flow and is expected to close in mid-2016.
AWN will be an on-going tenant on all of the sites in this sale-leaseback transaction. The majority of the towers are fiber ready and are expected to be upgraded from 3G to LTE.
The towers cover Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak Island, Wasilla and the Kenai Peninsula, which includes 90 percent of the Alaska population. Coverage also includes the corridors between the population centers.
On nearly 80 percent of the sites, AWN is the only tenant, leaving significant upside for a second and third tenant on each site. In the next five years, Vertical Bridge expects to serve all the major carriers.
“We think these towers will be very attractive to the big four as they think about network expansion and densification,” said Bob Paige, senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions, Vertical Bridge.
Verizon has built out in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which includes Wasilla. “We think Verizon will be one of our best partners in the long term,” Paige said. “They have done a pretty good job of building out, but there are still a lot of gaps in coverage given the vast territory.”
“AT&T’s presence is pretty modest in Alaska, and T-Mobile has stated they want a bigger presence, as well as Sprint,” he added.
While Alaska is a vast state, Vertical Bridge’s newly purchased tower portfolio is dense, according to Paige. For example, it has 76 sites in Anchorage, 26 sites in Wasilla and 30 sites in Fairbanks.
“When AT&T decides to make a meaningful entry into the market, it only has to make one phone call to Vertical Bridge to complete a lot of its network buildout,” Paige said. “That was one of the appeals to working with AWN.”
Global Tower Partners, from which many of the Vertical Bridge principals originated, had a significant portfolio in Alaska and a lot of experience in the state. Even though the price was a consideration, Paige believes that Vertical Bridge won the bidding process because of its experience in the state and in working with sale-leaseback partners.
“We own the towers; they own the network. It is a marriage. We need each other to coexist,” he said. “They wanted to make sure they were hitching their wagon to someone they can work with in the foreseeable future, and we know how to get things done in Alaska.”