CELL TOWER COMPANIES IN 2021

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Cell tower companies are entities that own and operate cell towers. Tower companies either build or acquire towers from other tower companies or wireless providers. The companies develop and operate towers to lease space on the towers to wireless providers.  Leases between a tower company and a wireless provider are known as collocation or tenant leases.  The tower company pays for expenses to operate the tower and in return, collects rent of $1,000/mo. to $5,000/mo in most cases per collocation.  The average cell tower owned by the three largest tower companies in the United States has approximately 2.1 to 2.2 wireless collocations on it. 

HOW MANY CELL TOWERS ARE THERE IN THE US?

In 2021, the U.S. cell tower industry is pretty concentrated at the top where the top three tower companies own 100,000 of the estimated 200,000 cell towers in the country.  From there it starts to get highly fragmented with 58% of cell tower companies owning between 1-10 towers and another 25% owning between 11-100 towers. Below is a chart with our estimates on the number of assets owned by each of the three largest public tower companies.  We also show approximate numbers of non-cell tower assets each company owns or controls.

  US Towers Rooftops under Management Active Rooftops (ones with wireless tenants) Small Cells/DAS Nodes Wireless Leases (no structure included)
American Tower (AMT) 43,000 19,000 2,000 800 2,600
Crown Castle (CCI) 40,000     70,000 2,300
SBA Communications (SBAC) 16,479 4,800 500    

WHAT OTHER ASSETS DO TOWER COMPANIES OWN?

Besides owning towers, cell tower companies also manage rooftops on buildings owned by others.  Some of the top cell tower companies have also purchased portfolios of leases from lease buyout companies. Lease buyout companies like Unison Site Management, Communications Capital Group, and Wireless Capital Partners no longer exist after selling their portfolio of leases that they bought from landowners and building owners.  Some tower companies (notably Crown Castle) have aggressively pursued ownership of small cells and fiber optic networks. 

DO WIRELESS CARRIERS OWN MANY TOWERS?

Not anymore.  Historically, wireless carriers once owned towers with some carriers even operating their own tower companies (T-Mobile Towers, ATLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.&T Towers, US Cellular Towers). However, over the last 15 years, the tower companies have bought towers from wireless carriers.  The carriers who saw the towers as extra non-critical assets that could be exchanged for capital.   Some of the largest tower acquisitions include:

  1. Verizon sold 11,324 towers to American Tower in 2015 
  2. AT&T sold 9,100 towers to Crown Castle in 2013
  3. T-Mobile sold 7,200 towers to Crown Castle in 2012
  4. Sprint sold 6,600 towers to Global Signal in 2005 (later acquired by Crown Castle)

We estimate that there are approximately 10,000 towers in the US in 2021 that are still owned by the wireless carriers.

WHO ARE THE TOP TOWER COMPANIES IN THE UNITED STATES?

Below is a list of tower companies listed by the number of towers owned.  Some of these tower companies have more “sites” in their inventory which include properties or structures (like billboards or signs) that they manage for the entity that owns the structures.  The list below only includes owned towers, not managed sites.

  1. American Tower  41,000 towers
  2. Crown Castle 40,000 towers 
  3. SBA Communications 16,478 towers
  4. Vertical Bridge   6,000 towers 
  5. US Cellular   4,270 towers 
  6. Harmoni Towers   1,682 towers 
  7. Tillman Infrastructure LLC   1,100 towers 
  8. Peppertree Capital  1,023 towers
  9. Diamond Communications   1,000 towers
  10. TowerCo  1,000 towers
  11. Phoenix Tower International     700 towers
  12. Tower Ventures400 towers


* Peppertree purchased 1023 towers from AT&T under the name Octagon Towers, but they also have investments in other tower companies including TowerCo, Blue Sky Towers, Branch Towers, Horvath Towers, Clearview Tower Company, AW Towers, K2 Towers, Pegasus Tower Development.

HOW DOES STEEL IN THE AIR HELP WITH TOWER COMPANIES?

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 governmentsappraisersinvestors and “mom and pop” cell tower owners with valuation services.

INSIDER TIPS
  1. 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.
  2. Cell tower companies hire 3rd party “lease optimizers” like Black Dot and Md7 to help them renegotiate their land leases with landowners. Most of these requests to renegotiate are not worth considering.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

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