5G Site Marketing: Scam or Opportunity?

One of the more disturbing trends in 2021 and early 2022 is the rise of the “5G site marketing companies.” Over the past year, we have observed a substantial increase in the number of proposals issued to our larger municipal and corporate clients. Some of these companies include 5G, LLC.; SiteMark, LLC.; Aon 5G; and TETTO 5G. The public tower companies (American Tower, Crown Castle, Vertical Bridge, SBA Communications) offer site management services to facility owners as well. (Please note that Steel in the Air is not related to any of these companies. We don’t offer 5G site marketing services.

WHAT 5G SITE MARKETING COMPANIES PROMISE

These “5G site marketing” proposals share the following aspects:

  1. They all point to industry quotes that there will be upwards of 1,000,000 new “5G cell sites” deployed, without distinguishing that most of these will be small cells.
  2. They promise that these cell site leases will produce ridiculous rental rates for the landowner. For example, we have seen more than one proposal from these companies suggesting that $10,000/mo. is possible. Another company suggested that every property they find a lease for would be worth $1,000,000 to the owner.
  3. The marketing company will take an exclusive right to market the properties.
  4. In exchange, the landowner will receive 75% of any rental payments procured.
  5. They suggest that “take rates” (i.e., the % of buildings that would be used) range from 5-25%. 
  6. They have flashy marketing presentations that show how much “lifetime” value they can add to a property in rental income from 5G cell sites over the years. 

The glossy proposals show pictures of buildings with multiple wireless carriers leasing space. They spout statistics pulled from industry vendors showing how much wireless use is increasing year over year and how many cell sites will be needed. They promise significant additional income.

WHAT 5G SITE MARKETING COMPANIES DON’T TELL YOU

  1. The vast majority of the 800,000 to 1,000,000 new sites “required” for 5G will be small cells. Why does that matter? Because the FCC and state legislation in 28 states allow for wireless providers to install small cells in the public Right of Way for less than $270/year (yes, per year). To date, 95% of all small cells deployed are in the public right of way. So, of those 800,000 small cells, less than 5% of them will go to private property and significantly fewer will be leased because some company marketed the site to a carrier. 
  2. 60-70% of all cell sites in the US are on towers. 75% of all future proposed cell sites will be installed on towers. Therefore, unless you own a tower, you are unlikely to receive income from a cell site lease.
  3. Even if there is no tower nearby and you own a building, it is very unlikely that any given building will be chosen as a 5G cell site. Per An Analysis of US Building Stock, there are:
    • 5.2 million multifamily residential buildings 
    • 5.5 million commercial buildings
    • 350,000 industrial buildings
    • 240,000 military buildings
    • Let’s assume – for ease of discussion – that half of these buildings are tall enough to be considered as a location for a cell site. That means there are 5.5 million buildings available for cell sites. Even the wildest projections anticipate less than 100,000 new macrocells will be built over the next 10 years. If we assume that 75% of these will be on existing or new towers, that leaves 25,000 to be installed on buildings. Even if these cell sites are distributed evenly and only on buildings without cell sites already – that means there is less than 4/100ths of 1% chance that your building will be chosen.
  1. Very few landowners in the US receive anywhere close to the $10,000/month some 5G marketing companies represent as possible per site in their marketing proposals. In our database, less than ½ of 1% of all cell site leaseholders make that much.
  2. Many of these marketing agreements are exclusive, which means that no one else can market your property. Even if the marketing company is unsuccessful at bringing anyone to your property, you are not able to terminate the agreement. 
  3. Worse yet, if the wireless carrier approaches you directly – you still owe the marketing company a percentage of the income, despite the fact that they did nothing to procure the tenant. 

WHY WE AREN’T FANS OF SITE MARKETING & WHY WE DON’T OFFER THESE SERVICES

If you’ve read our content over the years, you know that we aren’t big fans of marketing agreements. We have reviewed and advised our clients in the past who have entered into them and across the board, we have found that they rarely bring in any substantive income. In the cases where they do, we believe that the wireless provider would have naturally found the property on their own – with or without the marketing agreement in place. 

No amount of marketing will make an undesirable site desirable. Carriers place their sites where they are due to engineering requirements. If a site is too close to other sites or too far, they won’t use it. If your site is too short or too tall, the carrier will go to nearby sites and find one that works. 

These marketing companies suggest that they will put together a list of their sites, and that carriers will seek them out. However, as someone who has previously managed site acquisition projects, I can tell you that most companies rarely (if ever) looked at “lists” of potential buildings or vacant land. We did use lists of existing towers. We (and the carriers) know that 7 times out of 10, if they approach a landowner, that landowner will be interested. They don’t need a list to know this. 

 

DO 5G MARKETING AGREEMENTS WORK?

As an example, a client of ours owns hundreds of large commercial developments across the United States. They received a proposal from a site management company to market their properties for cell sites and small cells. They engaged us to review the proposal and we advised that it was unlikely to be successful, but that it didn’t hurt to try under the right terms and conditions. Within 3 years, the management company didn’t find a single tenant – not one across the hundreds of desirable properties throughout the US. 

BUT WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE BY SIGNING A SITE MARKETING AGREEMENT? 

To answer this question, it helps to understand why marketing companies are spending so much time and effort to get you to sign up with them. They know that if they can sign large property owners, the law of averages means that some of the properties may eventually see interest from a wireless tenant. Once they sign up landowners or building owners, there are nominal costs in marketing the sites. Create an excel spreadsheet, put a map of the sites on the website, send the list to carriers, and wait. Even if only 1% of all sites are used, if the marketing company has signed up 100,000 properties, that means 1,000 will be hits. 

The agreements are very one-sided. Even if the marketing company is unsuccessful, you are still bound to a long-term agreement. If they do procure a lease, you will owe them 25% of the lease for the life of the lease EVEN IF YOU TERMINATE THE MARKETING AGREEMENT. 

Some of these marketing agreements mandate that you use the marketing company’s lease agreement. Because the marketing company wants to maximize their long-term revenue, they won’t always act in your best interest. The agreements are carrier friendly, because ultimately the marketing company knows that the more the lease is modified, the less likely the carrier is to sign it. 

In the future, if you end up having to renovate the building or property or wish to move the site, not only do you have to negotiate with the carrier, but you also have to negotiate with the management company. We have assisted landowners in trying to get out of management agreements and leases – it is significantly more difficult than working directly with the carrier. 

There is a strong probability that these marketing companies will be bought by other companies in the future, so the people you are dealing with now likely won’t be the same as those you will deal with in the future. 

CAN I DO MY OWN MARKETING?

Yes, but don’t expect immediate success. Even in the best scenarios, your efforts are likely to be unsuccessful. Please see our article on how to get a cell tower on your property for more details on steps you can take on your own – and without paying 25% to anyone. 

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A MARKETING/MANAGEMENT AGREEMENT?

  • You should NEVER grant the marketing company power of attorney. Nor should there be any requirement that you sign a lease on any property.
  • There should be language that commits the management company to acting in your best interests, not the carriers’. 
  • There should be different revenue share percentages due depending upon whether the wireless carrier approaches you directly, or they approach the management company (higher if they find the tenant for you).
  • The management company should be required to pay you your percentage of any and all payments from the carrier to the management company regardless of what they are called. Some management companies charge a “revenue share reimbursement” so that they are paid back any revenue share they have to pay the site owner. 
  • You should have complete control over where and how the carriers install on your roof or property.
  • Any lease should have a relocation clause within it in the event you need to terminate or relocate the equipment to renovate or replace the building. 
  • Most importantly, you must have the right to terminate the management agreement if the marketing company is unsuccessful at producing leases on your properties. If you do terminate, the marketing company should not have the right to continue to collect revenue through the end of any leases they found. 

 

I AM STILL INTERESTED IN FINDING THE RIGHT MARKETING COMPANY. HOW CAN YOU HELP?

We can evaluate proposals that you have received and review your properties to see whether there is likely an upside in the future. We can share our experience on what traits are more likely to indicate success. If you want to issue an RFP to distribute to various marketing companies, we can help draft it and review and rank their responses. We can review the proposed management agreement and discuss the business terms and language with you and your attorney.
PLEASE DO NOT CONTACT US TO HELP MARKET YOUR PROPERTIES OR FIND A MARKETING COMPANY TO MARKET YOUR PROPERTIES. Please reach out to all or some of the companies listed above directly. Then if you find one you like, we can be retained to help evaluate their proposals. 

 

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