The tower market’s big hitters lined up yesterday to give an overview of the major issues facing the wireless infrastructure market. Led by moderator and WIA President Jonathan Adelstein, the three “majors” were represented by CEOs Jay Brown of Crown Castle and Jeff Stoops of SBA and Steve Vondran, Exec. VP of American Tower. Alex Gellman, CEO of Vertical Bridge and David Weisman, CEO of InSite rounded out the panel.
The pending T-Mobile merger was met with fairly wide acceptance by the group, being hailed as “a positive,” although Vondran said American is maintaining a “neutral” stance. Stoops saw it as a net gain for SBA that will add to co-location on existing inventory.
“Regardless of how many carriers are in the market,” Brown said “data usage is the driver of growth.”
The panel was also positive about the growth potential of 5G although they had a sober-eyed view of where it’s at now. The infrastructure is still not “equipment ready,” according to Brown. Stoops said lots of tech changes such as massive MIMO still need to take place. Gellman added “5G is not cheap” and said it may cost up to $400 billion to deploy in the U.S. alone in the coming years. “It may be awhile,” he said.
Adelstein’s question to Gellman about the recent Zayo acquisition by Digital Bridge brought a ‘no comment’ from the CEO. “We are not under one ownership,” Gellman said, “and we all have our own business model.” Brown said the acquisition made sense as would any deal that helped move data. “Data is the new oil,” Brown said.
Stoops’ SBA, having taken a low profile in the fiber market said they were content with their pure tower model. “While there’s no question fiber and small cells and fiber have huge usage, everyone doesn’t need a full suite of services,” he said. Macro towers will still be the backbone of the industry now and in the future, Vondren said, as 80 percent of users will still reside in urban markets. Brown said 70 percent of growth in their business models shows 70 percent of it coming from macro towers rather than small cells.
By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers
May 23, 2019