BAI beefs up its US assets with ZenFi acquisition

Ray Le Maistre
By Ray Le Maistre

Jul 27, 2022

  • Neutral host specialist BAI Communications has opened its wallet again
  • It is acquiring US network operator ZenFi Networks
  • Deal will add fibre, small cells and colocation facilities on US east coast
  • BAI aims to be key digital infrastructure partner to all 5G service providers in US

Neutral host network operator BAI Communications has continued its merger and acquisition (M&A) streak with the planned buyout of ZenFi Networks, which will add significant fibre, small cell and colocation facility assets in the states of New Jersey and New York to BAI’s existing US assets. Financial details were not disclosed.

BAI has been expanding through acquisitions for the past couple of years, having last year snapped up Mobilitie – at the time the largest independent neutral host infrastructure player in the US – in a deal believed to be in the region of $1.3bn. That acquisition added substantial assets – distributed antenna system (DAS) networks, Wi-Fi networks, small cells, towers and dark fibre – to its existing US infrastructure owned as part of its Transit Wireless subsidiary, which counts a DAS network in the New York City subway system as one of its wholesale network deployments – see Neutral host market goes into high gear as BAI snaps up Mobilitie.

Now ZenFi is being added to the mix. Its assets include more than 1,100 route miles of fibre network across the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region – including fronthaul fibre designed to support cloud RAN (C-RAN) deployments, which are increasingly popular among mobile operators – and the rights to deploy mobile network elements in 4,000 LinkNYC kiosks across New York City. BAI is hoping such assets will be of interest not only to mobile operators, particularly as they seek to densify their networks while expanding their 5G coverage, but also to enterprises and municipalities.

BAI group CEO Igor Leprince (arguably the finest name in the industry), noted that the “alignment that exists between the operations and outlook of ZenFi Networks and BAI in the broader New York area presents an opportunity that is greater than the sum of its parts. With an operational footprint that is perfectly aligned to our own, and enhanced IoT capabilities, this acquisition is an obvious next step for extending our reach in the region and is an exciting development for us in the North American market as we look to bring enterprises, municipalities, and mobile network operators a broader range of services and depth of expertise.”

And this is a deal made for memorable monikers because the founder and CEO of Zenfi is Ray LaChance. “Combining ZenFi Networks’ established reputation and relationships in and around New York City, and our expertise in fast-growth segments like small cell deployment with the scale and reach that BAI has across North America and globally, creates the perfect platform to capture the increasing 5G and connected infrastructure growth opportunity,” noted LaChance. 

The deal highlights something that’s been quite clear for a couple of years now: Companies in the neutral host infrastructure market, which make their digital assets available to multiple ‘tenants’ that can build or expand their networks without needing to deploy their own infrastructure, benefit from scale and a complementary portfolio of products and services. This is why, nearly every week, there is news of yet another acquisition by a towers, fibre network or datacentre operator. 

And BAI isn’t just snapping up assets in the US. Late last year it acquired Vilicom, a Dublin-based connectivity provider specialising in private, indoor, and offshore cellular networks, to add to its UK and Ireland assets – see BAI bulks up again with Vilicom acquisition.

In the UK, BAI is probably best known for being the company that has built the London Underground neutral host cellular network that multiple mobile operators are using to provide 4G and 5G connectivity to their customers on the tube, as it is known in the capital city – see Customers of all major networks set to have access to high-speed mobile coverage across London Tube network.

It also provides the shared networks for transit systems in Toronto and Hong Kong and, earlier this year, it set up operations in Italy – see BAI sets up neutral host camp in Italy.

With demand for neutral host infrastructure growing and scale very important to open access network operators, it’s hard to imagine BAI won’t be loosening its purse string again before too long. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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