Wireless Tower Co. Adds $85 Million

No one ever said funding a telecom infrastructure company was cheap. We haven’t had too many examples post-2002, save for Optasite – a wireless tower owner and operator that today announced $85 million in new funding. That brings its total to over $330 million, and prompted whispers that liquidity could be in the cards for 2008.

Optasite’s new deal included a $35 million Series D equity tranche led by Citi, with return backer Columbia Capital also participating. None of the company’s other VC backers participated, although they all remain shareholders. This includes Centennial Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, Kestral Management, Key Venture Partners, Berkshires Capital Investors, Long River Capital Partners and Village Ventures. The other $50 million came as a subordinated debt facility from Morgan Stanley which supplanted GE as Opasite’s lender of choice last fall.

Ok, so what next? I spoke last week with Optasite CEO Jim Eisenstein, who previously had co-founded market leader American Tower Corp. (it has over 4,000 22,000 towers, compared to Optasite’s 511). He acknowledged that some sort of exit could be forthcoming in 2008, but stressed that all options remain on the table.

“It really depends on what the markets present to us,” Eisenstein said. “We could do a small-cap IPO, partner with someone, straight-up sell to a strategic or get acquired by a buyout shop. A lot of it will depend on management’s preference for future involvement with the company.”

But Jim, aren’t you the top manager? What’s your preference? Those are rhetorical questions, because Eisenstein declined to tip his hand when pressed. So we’ll have to put a thumbtack in this one for now, but expect that Optasite will have at least some new owners come 2009.

peHUB subscribers can read a 5 Questions interview with Eisenstein from back in November 2006. Not a subscriber? Become one here.