Ownership of Towers by the Carriers

9/23/15 Update: Number of Cell Towers Owner per Carrier

It’s been almost a decade since we’ve updated this blog post (although we do keep our website up to date, and send out regular Cell Tower and Wireless Industry Newsletters on pertinent and timely developments in the network infrastructure industry).

There is a significant change in the number of standing towers then and now. Let’s start out by saying:

At the end of 1997, the country had just over 50,000 cell towers. By the end of 2012, that number had jumped to more than 300,000.  Today we estimate that there are approximately 360,000 standing towers and even more cell sites on rooftops and other structures.

Here are the stats on the top Big Four Tower Companies as of December 12, 2014, as noted by the FCC in its annual report:


Top U.S. Wireless Carriers



Cell Sites


120,000,000 57,000

Verizon Wireless

114,000,000 45,000


57,500,000 50,000-70,000**


57,000,000 55,000

U.S. Cellular

5,000,000 8,250

C-Spire Wireless

1,000,000 1,500


275,000 998

In addition to wireless carriers, cell tower companies are also tower owners (and tower builders and managers).

The top three cell tower companies in the United States are:

American Tower (AMT)

Crown Castle International and

SBA Communications.

Please take a look at SITA’s newest presentation: Investments Flowing into the Private Cell Tower Companies for a good understanding of market dynamics today: https://www.steelintheair.com/Blog/2015/09/kenschmidt2.html

For landowners engaged in cell tower leases with American Tower or Crown Castle, we’d like to point out a few things: 

Both companies have recently been contacting landowners who have cell tower leases. AMT and CCI would like you to extend your lease for a long-period of time. This is in their benefit, since according to the terms of the lease, AMT and CCI are the only ones who can terminate the lease, at any time, for any reason.  If you have been contacted by one of them here are some things you should know before agreeing to do anything:

  • What’s the bottom line benefit of extending the lease?
  • Is the extension one-sided? In other words, if you extend the time during which they can use your property, does that mean American Tower is extending their commitment to continue the lease as well?
  • Are there other companies that would pay more to purchase my cell tower lease?
  • What is the potential upside to negotiating my American Tower or Crown Castle cell tower lease extension?
  • Is there any advantage to delay extending the lease? Would American Tower or Crown Castle be more aggressive in its pricing as we get closer to the cell tower lease expiration?
  • Would American Tower or Crown Castle choose to relocate the tower if you choose not to extend?

May 2006

From AGL Magazine: the numbers of towers owned directly by the wireless carriers:

Cingular- 7000 (minus 500 or so towers that are being sold)
TMobile- 4500
Sprint/Nextel- 2000
Verizon- unknown

None of the carriers were willing to express they might be selling anytime soon…

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