In terms of capital expenditures, co-locating wireless equipment on existing structures is often the most efficient and least costly solution for mobile wireless service providers that need new cell sites, and co-location reduces the cost of entry or market expansion. That’s one of the conclusions of the draft text of the FCC’s20th Mobile Wireless Competition Report. Commissioners will hear highlights of the report at the next public meeting.
Estimates for the average cost of building a new cell site tower range from $150,000 to $300,000, while the average cost of co-location on an existing tower is about 30 percent of the total cost of a new tower. The per-site cost (including both capital and operating costs) for small cells is estimated to be less than half of the per-site cost for macro sites. According to CTIA, over the past seven years, mobile wireless providers collectively have invested more than $30 billion annually, on average, in next-generation networks and wireless infrastructure.
As of December 2016, according to one estimate, the three largest publicly-traded neutral host providers (Crown Castle, American Tower, and SBA Communications) owned or operated approximately 95,000 towers (not including DAS and small cells).
At the end of December 2016, the top three tower operators had 1.8 to 2.2 tenants per tower site and had significant capacity available for additional antennas or tenants. The chart shows as of April 2017, there were three or more tower operators in 91 percent of counties nationwide, and six or more tower operators in 53 percent of counties, based on tower site data collected from 44 tower providers.