Dark, Urban Fiber is Crown’s Sweet Spot

Though most of Crown Castle International’s revenue (some 85 percent) comes from tall towers now, the company is investing heavily in small cells. “I think small cells could be as big as the tower business” is today, company President and Chief Executive Officer Jay Brown said Wednesday at the NAREIT Investor Forum.

Small cells are key to 5G deployment, where carriers need speed and less latency and can use small cells to densify their networks. “The asset we lease is fiber,” said Brown. Crown is trying to install as many antennas on distribution points as possible and use fiber to connect those points.

“The lease-up on small cells is about twice as fast” as it is for Crown’s 40,000 macro towers, according to Brown, who adds it can take only five years to lease a second tenant. Crown has 20,000 small cell nodes on-air now and 25,000 in the pipeline to be built. Thirty percent of those are additional tenants, to be co-located on existing assets.

“We like to own dark fiber, a dumb pipe we’re able to lease-up. We want it to be dense and urban” so Crown can use it for small cells, he said. 

Overall, the tower business is solid; Brown said towers give you vertical height to get above the tree line. “Carriers continue to sign leases. If they don’t pay rent they can’t broadcast the network.” Even “through bankruptcies, tower rent always gets paid first to protect the revenue stream.”

Brown downplayed a rumor that Crown Castle is interested in acquiring Spain’s Cellnex Telecom, saying that even though “international” is part of the company name, Crown has no international assets; he said Crown is focused on the U.S. only, noting that an international play “introduces an element of risk to the core business.”

June 8, 2017       

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