Gary Hess, co-founder of American Tower Corporation and current Director of Vertical Real Estate at Clear Channel, took the time to talk to us about where he sees the tall tower industry going. There is always the question of whether or not towers will be replaced by a smaller technology. “When American Tower was being put together. Steve Dodge and I would meet with the lenders and the questions were always so predictable. ‘Are satellites going to put towers out of business?’ ‘Why do we need towers in the future, because isn’t everything going to be running off of satellites?’” Gary explained. “I’m starting to sense that the real tall tower days are behind us. I’ve witnessed this because the big manufacturing companies have folded their tents.”
There has been a big shift to newer technologies like small cells because constructing macro cell sites isn’t always feasible. “There’s been a big dry spell for the past 3-4 years but I don’t think it’s coming back. No one is really talking about real big towers. With the redistribution of TV spectrum, things are changing,” Gary said. “They are talking about building one huge tower in the right location and stuffing as many antennas on it as possible or switching to a small cell system.” However, he didn’t say that companies aren’t going to use towers just that the characteristics are going to change to meet future growth. But what will change?
“If there’s a trend, I think radio is stable but the TV industry, with the repackaging and the redistributing of the spectrum, I don’t think it’s going to be as aggressive as size and height and capital as it was during the first go around. There’s even some talk of going to Distributed Systems so TV would be broadcast off of multiple towers like the cellular concept. There’s some virtue to that because if you have 8 or 9 outlets you can actually show separate broadcasts, uniquely tailor the advertisers, or the different demographics to different locations in the market.” While short towers continue rapid growth, tall towers will always be around.