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Deutsche Telekom to sell 51% of towers business

FILE PHOTO: Brochures with the logo of Deutsche Telekom AG are pictured at the shop in the headquarters of German telecommunications giant in Bonn

By Emma-Victoria Farr and Matthias Inverardi

LONDON/BERLIN (Reuters) -Deutsche Telekom has agreed to sell 51% of its towers business to a consortium of Canada's Brookfield and U.S. private equity firm DigitalBridge after they made a surprise last-minute bid that valued the unit at 17.5 billion euros ($17.5 billion).

Brookfield had originally helped to fund a binding bid by Spanish telecoms firm Cellnex, before Cellnex withdrew on Wednesday.

The German telecoms giant will keep the remaining 49% stake of the GD Towers business, with the deal expected to close towards the end of the year.

Proceeds of 10.7 billion euros will help Deutsche Telekom cut debt, while it works towards acquiring a majority share in its T-Mobile U.S. subsidiary.

"We crystalise the value of our tower assets, thereby creating value for our shareholders," Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges said.

Brookfield and DigitalBridge "have deep pockets for the coming steps," Höttges added, indicating their role in fostering industry consolidation during a media briefing.

Deutsche Telekom shares were down 1.6% at 1102 GMT.

The deal is Germany's biggest this year and Europe's second largest, after the Benetton family and U.S. fund Blackstone's 58 billion euro takeover of Italian infrastructure group Atlantia.

The towers sale kicked off in March, drawing attention from heavyweight financial investors including U.S. buyout fund KKR which teamed up with Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and Stonepeak on a rival bid.

Many telecoms firms have carved out towers businesses, or launched joint ventures with other companies, to raise money while retaining a stake in operations.

Goldman Sachs advised Deutsche Telekom on the sale, while Perella Weinberg Partners, Evercore and Barclays worked with DigitalBridge alongside law firms Allen & Overy and Morgan Lewis.

With around 800 employees, GD Towers operates radio towers at more than 40,000 locations in Germany and Austria. In 2021, the company achieved sales of around 1.1 billion euros.

Vodafone's Frankfurt-listed towers business Vantage Towers and American Tower had considered bids earlier in the auction process.

"The partnership being formed today is about building the next generation digital infrastructure champion of Europe," said DigitalBridge CEO Marc Ganzi.

The infrastructure investment firm manages $47 billion of assets focused on digital infrastructure such as wireless towers, data centers and fiber networks.

($1 = 0.9981 euros)

(Reporting by Emma-Victoria Farr in London and Matthias Inverardi in DuesseldorfWriting by Rachel More in Berlin Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Mark Potter)