(Bloomberg) -- KKR & Co. is seen as the party to beat as it competes with Cellnex Telecom SA in the final race for a stake in Vodafone Group Plc’s towers unit, people with knowledge of the matter said. 

The private equity firm, which has teamed up with Global Infrastructure Partners, is in pole position as Vodafone evaluates the binding offers it received last week for a stake in Frankfurt-listed Vantage Towers AG, the people said. 

Cellnex is bidding together with Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Cellnex is seeking to buy a majority stake that would give it operational control, one of the people said. 

Shares in Vantage rose as much as 3.5% on Thursday. The stock was up 2.4% at 10:31 a.m in Frankfurt, giving the company a market value of €14.3 billion ($14 billion). A raft of private equity and strategic bidders, including EQT AB and American Tower Corp., have previously shown interest in a deal for Vantage, Bloomberg News has reported. 

While the KKR-led group aims to seal a deal as early as next week, the situation remains fluid, the people said. They want to avoid a repeat of their last-minute loss in July in the auction for a majority stake in Deutsche Telekom AG’s tower unit, which eventually went to Brookfield Asset Management Inc. and DigitalBridge Group Inc.

Vodafone, which owns 82% of the tower business, could aim to reach an agreement by the time of its Nov. 15 half-year results announcement. The company continues to study the bids and hasn’t yet picked a winner, according to the people.

Representatives for Cellnex, KKR and Vodafone declined to comment. Representatives for GIC and GIP didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Strong Demand

Europe’s phone carriers have started to sell off infrastructure assets to raise money for investments in costly fiber-optic rollouts and wireless network upgrades, as well as to cut their large debt piles. Telefonica SA and Liberty Global Plc are weighing a sale of their stake in a UK towers venture to help raise funds for fiber broadband investments, people familiar with the matter said last month.

These assets are attractive to investment firms thanks to their steady and predictable returns. Such is the strength of demand for them that the sector has been helping dealmakers defy a broader slowdown in global mergers and acquisitions activity this year. 

Bloomberg News reported this week that EQT is emerging as the frontrunner to acquire a stake in French telecom tower owner TDF. 

--With assistance from Eyk Henning, Rodrigo Orihuela and Aaron Kirchfeld.

(Updates shares in fourth paragraph.)

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