Maru Towers is a telecommunications company that builds communications infrastructure sites across South Africa.

It has a special focus on providing rural connectivity to under-serviced areas and has ambitions of being the first truly South African-owned private tower company of scale in the country.

We recently spoke to Maru Towers CEO Tumelo Mailula about the work the tower company is doing in South Africa.

What sorts of clients do you predominantly work with?

Our main customers are mobile operators like Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Rain.

However, we also lease space on our tower sites to ISPs and Security Service Providers.

How do you decide where to build your communications sites?

We utilise existing site data, planning permissions, population data, crowd-sourced intel and RF planning tools to accurately predict where the next mobile tower site is required.

We ensure our sites are shareable by multiple telecommunications operators as this ensures the operators can deliver their voice and data services at lower rates.

You started Maru Towers right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, while many companies folded. Were you that sure of Maru’s business model and ultimate success?

While many industries faced major challenges during the lockdown, the need for data connectivity grew exponentially.

While business parks stood empty, the demand for data from residential areas skyrocketed.

It was a very calculated move to launch Maru Towers as a South African-owned tower company with Level 1 B-BBEE contributor credentials during the pandemic.

So yes, we absolutely believed that our venture would be a success.

What plans does Maru Towers have for the future?

We see Maru Towers playing a more prominent role – not only in providing passive site infrastructure, but by having full-service capabilities like Power as a Service, backhaul connectivity, neutral site hosting, small cell solutions and Open RAN rollout services.

As a South African-owned and operated company, we will also continue to invest heavily in the communities where we build our infrastructure sites.

We want to play a key role in driving digital literacy to all schools as a strategic priority.

Our connectivity strategy therefore focuses on fast-tracking global access to all youth in the country.

Why do you believe it is important to bridge the digital divide by providing comprehensive coverage across the country?

Our digital strategy – to connect the unconnected – will enable learning and growth for every individual in every community in the country.

In practice, this would allow a new start-up in Mothibistad to connect with buyers in New York.

The provision of access to reliable broadband internet, especially to unconnected and previously disadvantaged communities, is at the core of our purpose as an organization.

What are the major trends you’re seeing within the broadband industry?

Companies like Vodacom and MTN have changed their business models and are focussing on their core activities of selling connectivity and business solutions.

MTN’s sale of its South African tower portfolio to IHS and Vodacom’s decision to spin off its own tower company are both proof thereof.

We expect that tower companies will evolve into full-service companies that will not only provide passive site infrastructure, but will also offer Power as a Service, backhaul connectivity, neutral site hosting, small cell solutions, and Open RAN rollout services.

We also see consolidation taking place in the tower company space, with many of the smaller players being absorbed into larger portfolios.

Maru Towers is currently in discussions to acquire a smaller tower company and we have successfully bought 15 tower sites and a pipeline of 150 sites from Telecom Towers Africa, which is part of the Mobax Group.

We believe that we can become the first truly South African-owned private tower company of scale in the country.