One of the joys of being on this side of the business is the relationships we form with landowners- both leads and clients. This morning, I spoke with a lead who owns some land near Kansas City where Sprint PCS erected one of their first PCS towers. The subject tower has its own storied history- like others moving from Sprint PCS to Pinnacle Towers to Global Signal then to its current owner, Crown Castle.
The lead recalls when he was first contacted by someone from Sprint PCS when they only had 12 employees. The Sprint employee talked of building a network of towers across the country – Sprint planned to spend “over $1 billion” dollars doing it. The landowner was pretty skeptical but signed on anyway. Here’s an old Sprint PCS commercial for your enjoyment.
At that time, he recalls that the only cellular service available was from AT&T. It was expensive- $1.05/minute and it cost $300 to install the bag phone in the car. To use the service, you had to wait until the red light switched to green because the system could only handle a limited number of users simultaneously. It wasn’t that reliable and the landowner welcomed any competition.
Contrast that with today’s cellular systems. Wireless carriers spend $1 billion per quarter or more building out their networks. It’s rare to speak with an actual employee of the company building the tower on the property. Minutes of use cost next to nothing with unlimited plans. Sprint has 30,000 employees. While the cost of the cell phone has gone up ($300 in 1996 is equivalent to just under $500 today), they do so much more. Back in 1996, Sprint’s stock price was at $20.50/share. Today it is just under $7/share.
Care to see our wireless history? It obviously hasn’t been updated in a while (Cricket and MetroPCS are still on it), but you can see Sprint’s history.