Tower company SBA jumps into edge computing with Packet deal

Edge computing company Packet announced that it has broken ground on its first Boston edge computing data center location; the data center sits at the base of a cell tower operated by SBA Communications. The companies said they expect the location will be open for customers by the end of this year.

“We are excited to partner with Packet to bring the power of edge computing to our tower site in Foxborough [near Boston], the first of what we expect will be many sites in our extensive portfolio to become distributed network connectivity points for emerging 5G and edge computing applications,” said Clay Moran, director of strategy at SBA, in a release.

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SBA’s interest in edge computing was foreshadowed by SBA CEO Jeff Stoops earlier this week during the company’s quarterly conference call with analysts.

“We continue to work on initial prototype mobile edge computing locations built around our existing property locations,” he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks. “It’s still very early in the development of these solutions. But we believe we have a distinct advantage with the quality locations we are targeting and we are excited about the potential for this additional business line down the road.”

SBA joins tower rival Crown Castle in expressing interest in the edge computing arena. Crown, for its part, provided an initial investment into edge computing startup Vapor IO, which recently received its Series C funding round led by Berkshire Partners. Vapor IO has obtained enough cash to fund its plans to build out 13 edge computing sites by the end of 2018: nearly 50 by the end of 2019 and over 100 by the end of 2020.

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As for Packet, the company just raised $25 million in a series B round of funding in part to help it build 50 new edge computing sites. As Data Center Knowledge recently reported, Packet is currently working on three edge computing locations: two at Crown Castle sites in Chicago with Vapor IO and one in Boston with SBA. As the publication reported, Packet plans to kick off deployments at 6 to 10 sites before the end of the year, with a longer-term goal of eventually scaling to 50 sites.

“We continue to believe the ‘edge’ theme is in its very early innings,” the analysts at Wells Fargo wrote of SBA’s announcement with Packet. “In our view the towers are in a position to play a very significant role in this developing theme. The base of the tower is a logical place for a micro edge data center given the power and fiber to the location as well as the security in place. We look for more developments around this theme to come in 2019.”