Cell Tower Companies
Cell Tower Companies are companies that own and operate cell towers. The U.S. cell tower industry is fairly concentrated at the top; there are three tower companies that have approximately 73,000 towers, while the remainder of the tower industry is highly fragmented. A study completed by AGL Magazine in 2012 noted that 58% of tower owners own between 1–10 towers, with another 25% of tower owners have 11-100 towers.
|US Towers||Rooftops under Management||Active Rooftops||3rd Party Leases Owned|
|Crown Castle (CCI)||39,555||2,300|
|American Tower (AMT)||27,999||19,000||2,000||2,600|
|SBA Communications (SBAC)||15,000||4,800||500|
We’ve listed the top three cell tower companies in the United States, along with the most recent numbers of assets we could find for each. As you can see, besides owning towers (upon which they lease space to wireless carriers), cell tower companies also enter into rooftop management agreements and purchase portfolios of leases from lease buyout companies. After these top three cell tower companies, wireless carriers (who act as both a service provider and a cell tower company) own the most cell towers.
Small cell tower companies also exist – like Comcast, who placed its portfolio of 800 towers into a separate tower company named CTI, Inc. Diamond Communications shows 1500+ existing structures on their site list; Insite Towers, LLC owns 650 towers. Other notable tower owners include cable companies, like Time Warner and Charter Communications and broadcasters like Clear Channel.
Cell tower companies generate revenue by leasing space on their towers to wireless carriers. The top three cell tower companies (American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications) acquire, rather than build, the vast majority of their cell towers, either from other tower companies (see American Tower Corporation’s recent acquisition of Global Tower Partners and Crown Castle Acquires 9,700 Towers from AT&T) or from wireless carriers.. When tower companies add towers to their portfolio, they also attempt to add additional tenants, which significantly increases their revenue per tower. In recent years, some of the tower companies have focused on expanding their markets, and subsequently, their portfolio offerrings. These include DAS systems, 3rd party lease buyouts, and rooftop acquisition or management.
Steel in the Air assists landowners who have ground leases under the towers or rooftop leases on sites managed by the tower companies. We also assist governments, appraisers, investors and "mom and pop" cell tower owners with valuation services.
Top 7 U.S. Tower Companies (based on number of cell towers owned)
Cell towers are originally built with a certain capacity in mind. Some are built to house singular carriers, while others are built to support multiple carriers. As such, their value varies a great deal.
Wireless carriers and tower companies often send notices to their Lessors (e.g. landowners, building owners and structure owners) stating that the Lessor must consent to certain equipment modifications. This is not necessarily true. In many cases, you can negotiate better terms (or receive some form of compensation) in exchange for your “consent.”
Finding the sweet spot in lease negotiations requires knowledge of industry dynamics and company-specific deployment plans. Relocating cell sites is expensive, however if their gears are already moving, companies might eat the costs – especially when they’re dealing with property owners who are difficult or too demanding.