SBA: 5G Core Will Need Macro Towers

One of the hot topics discussed last week at the Mobile World Congress was 5G. How could that deployment affect SBA Communications Corporation? Company EVP/CFO Brendan Cavanagh says most of the 5G planning for the next couple of years calls for a fixed wireless solution in urban areas, using millimeter wave spectrum. But as it evolves, “we expect the core of a truly national 5G network will have to be macro. The only way to cost-efficiently do it is using a traditional macro tower design.”

Speaking at the Raymond James 39th Annual Institutional Investors Conference in Orlando on Monday, Cavanagh said the industry is seeing the start of that evolution using the 600 MHz spectrum, referring to the spectrum that some TV broadcasters gave up in the FCC’s incentive auction.    

Looking to the more immediate future, the number of application backlogs SBA has from the major carrier tenants, plus the AT&T FirstNet build-out this year, gives the towerco “confidence we’ll see growth in 2018,” which will also “bode well for 2019,” according to Cavanagh.

Sprint, which had not been spending much on their network for a number of years is now doing so, he noted. “We signed a master lease agreement with them in Q4.” That includes amendments to “thousands of their existing leases and new locations.”

Sprint is deploying “much bigger antennas” on their 2.5 GHz spectrum. “It allows us to charge bigger amendment rates,” said Cavanagh. The spending uptick will occur over the next two years, he said.

Actually, all four of the major carriers are “active at the same time,” as they densify their wireless networks, said the executive.

SBA is “confident” they’ll see incremental spending from AT&T as well. “They have deadlines they need to meet” for the public-private partnership with the government, to build the nation’s broadband wireless network for first responders, he said.

By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

March 6, 2018


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