Tower Leasing Drought Ends as Spectrum Flows Out

The tower industry went through a number of years from 2014 to 2019, where leasing and tower builds were pretty slow, Bob Paige, Vertical Bridge Executive Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions and Corporate Development, said during the Tower Panel presented by Vogue Towers at last week’s South Wireless Summit in Nashville. But that is over now.

“Last year, we and the public tower companies had a record year.  We’re certainly off to a good start this year as well,” Paige said. The formula for this uptick is simple, according to Paige. “When the carriers spend $120 billion on spectrum, which they did over the last three years, they are going to put the 180 MHz of spectrum that they acquired to work,” Paige said. 

The panel was moderated by Pat Tant, CEO, Vogue Towers, and included Page, Tony Sabatino, President and Chief Technology Officer, Diamond Communications; Todd Rowley, CEO, Strategic Wireless Infrastructure Fund Management; newly minted President and Chief Operating Officer of Vertical Bridge Ron Bizick; and Dave Mayo, Executive Vice President, Network Development, DISH Network.

With 100 MHz of mid-band spectrum, the carriers’ ability to push a massive amount of capacity to the cell site just in that band is “unbelievable,” according to Sabatino. “So the infrastructure guys are really looking at upgrading and putting the C-band to work,” he said.

Carrier infrastructure spend will peak in the next couple of years but will wane after that, Paige said. Rowley said he sees a longer runway, with growth in the digital infrastructure space continuing for the next three to five years. Sabatino said, “It’s going to take many years to put all of that spectrum to work, as well as the other spectrum comes available in the next several years.”

Rowley, whose firm has raised $200 million, said he is seeing the growth from the modifications and upgrades to towers that will happen in the mid-band spectrum initiatives. 

“One of the things that we had an eye on was the new entrants and obviously DISH Network has been an incredible growth initiative and interesting business plan,” Rowley said. “But the whole private network space seems to be another area that has a lot of growth prospects.”

Mayo said that DISH focused on its rollout and is still on track to meet its 20 percent coverage milestone in the middle of June and its 70 percent coverage goal mid-2023, as required by the FCC. “We’re just getting our jobs done. It’s a big program, lots of work from the general contractor front and lots of great work by the tower guys. So thank you all for all that you’re doing to support us.”

It is too early to tell how much growth the federal $65 billion broadband infrastructure initiative will bring to the carriers’ use of towers, according to Bizick. He encouraged tower companies to “enable the wireless internet service providers to succeed by partnering with them, and providing tower sites and funding to get them to market.”

Paige added that he hopes the money from the broadband law goes to truly unserved users, as opposed to giving better data speeds to people who already have good speeds.

By J. Sharpe Smith, Inside Towers Technology Editor

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