AT&T Seeks New Tower Model

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As AT&T gets into 5G development and small cell deployment, what happens with its traditional towers? Finding the current tower business model untenable, the carrier plans a three-prong approach: building its own towers, leasing space on existing towers or going to third parties.

AT&T Chief Strategy Officer and Group President of Technology and Operations John Donovan agrees with one of his colleagues who earlier this year declared the current tower model unsustainable. Speaking to the Cowen and Company 45th Annual Technology, Media and Telecom Conference this week, Donovan characterized the current tower model this way: “We rent an apartment and are charged every time” a new appliance is brought to the space and plugged in. “We’re after a model that is more like a real estate model based on square footage,” he said.

That includes looking at alternative suppliers. Asked whether the carrier is getting back into the tower business, he said: “We’re good builders. We’re going to build.”

The carrier has been in discussions with the major towercos for months and is optimistic it can negotiate and still meet its FirstNet buildout requirements, he said.

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