Crown Castle posted relatively solid quarterly earnings and bumped its guidance for 2016, capping what had been a nervous couple of weeks for investors in light of reports of a major network transition by Sprint.
Sprint is reportedly about to embark on a radical overhaul of its cellular network that will include moving its antennas off of towers owned by companies like Crown Castle and American Tower and instead using government-owned land and towers with cheaper rent. In addition, the carrier is rumored to also be ending its reliance on fiber for backhaul and instead use microwave, which will mean it won't have to lease fiber from players like AT&T and Verizon. According to Re/code, which first reported Sprint's network plans, the revamp of its network towers and backhaul could save the company $1 billion and begin as soon as June.
Tower operator Crown Castle said that the demand for small cells is behind most of the company's construction costs. In the third quarter, the company reported that it had spent approximately $98 million building new sites, most of which were small cell sites.
As Crown Castle looks to gain a larger foothold in the burgeoning small cell market it's clear that the provider will have to bolster its fiber network by purchasing other smaller fiber providers, a research firm said.
In meetings with investment analysts, executives from tower company Crown Castle reiterated their belief that top wireless carriers will continue to densify and expand their nationwide wireless networks through a combination of new spectrum, small cells and standard macro cell buildouts.
Crown Castle CEO Ben Moreland said he is going to refrain from giving detailed assessments of the buildout plans of tower and infrastructure company's carrier customers, and that he has been asked by carriers not get too specific on Crown's earnings calls.
Crown Castle beat analysts' expectations for its third-quarter earnings and also indicated that it expects more site leasing revenue next year as network spending and small cell deployments in the U.S. ramp up.
Crown Castle sees significant potential in continued small cell deployments, while American Tower is more focused on Distributed Antenna Systems and SBA Communications doesn't see small cells fitting much into its portfolio. Those were some of the key takeaways from public appearances last week by the three tower companies' CEOs.
Unite Private Networks (UPN) may be gaining momentum in the wholesale wireless backhaul market with the recent installation of its 100th cell tower with dark fiber, but the service provider's move to offer turnkey small cell services illustrates that there's value in providing more than just a large pipe.
Verizon has deployed nearly 50 small cells in the Pittsburgh area. The deployment includes 15 cells in the Pittsburgh metro area. Crown Castle is handling the majority of the deployment with some assistance from ExteNet.