By our estimate, there are approximately 125,000-150,000 small cells deployed in the United States. This number excludes indoor small cells. WSPs (Wireless Service Providers) appear to be embracing small cells in a much bigger way as of late. In the last six months, we have observed a significant increase in the number of news articles related to small cell applications to municipalities. These applications are occurring not just in urban areas (the so-called NFL cities) but also in smaller cities and suburban areas across the US. The FCC has suggested that 80% of new cell site deployments will be small cells. We believe the percentage will be skewed even higher toward small cells due to the significant lack of 5G coverage currently available.
Here are our estimates or the reported numbers of small cell sites in the US as of Q3, 2022. This does not include indoor small cells, or indoor or outdoor DAS nodes unless otherwise indicated.
Yes, there are small cell leases, although most are with municipalities/cities. Mostly this is due to the FCC Declaratory Ruling and 3rd Order which basically gave virtually free access to the public ROW ($270/year per node) to small cell providers. (See this article on the Winners and Losers of the FCC 3rd Order) So, while there are small cell leases, most are between municipalities and WSPs or third-party infrastructure companies like Crown Castle. Given how cheap it is for these companies to place small cells in the ROW, there isn’t much incentive for them to solicit private landowners for small cell leases. The exception to this is when the property owner controls a significant amount of land AND there is a need for capacity related small cells in the area. (For example, at a shopping mall or large corporate campus).
First and foremost, it is important to get more information about the small cell they are proposing to add. Will it be a new pole? If so, where is it going on the property? What height will it be? What will it look like? Are there other similar small cells in the area that you can see? What are they offering? The wireless carriers like to start offering a few hundred dollars a month or a decent one-time fee. Whether they will agree to pay more is really dependent upon how much property you own and where the nearest public ROW is compared to your property. Small cell leases are similar to cell tower leases in that the value to the WSP varies depending upon location and difficulty of zoning. For areas with tougher regulations regarding small cells, wireless carriers may be more willing to pay to get a small cell on your property especially if they have network issues.
A COMPANY IS OFFERING TO MARKET MY PROPERTIES FOR FREE? SHOULD I SIGN UP?
Generally, we aren’t fans of 5G site marketing. For more details, see 5G Site Marketing: Scam or Opportunity?