Crown Castle sees $2.4B T-Mobile tower purchase as long-term capacity play

ORLANDO, Fla.--Crown Castle CEO Ben Moreland said the company's decision to buy the rights to 7,200 of T-Mobile USA's towers for $2.4 billion was an effort to boost Crown's tower presence in dense urban markets where carriers' capacity needs will be greatest in the years ahead.

In an interview with FierceWireless at the PCIA wireless infrastructure conference here, Moreland said the towers are a "unique portfolio" because 83 percent of the towers are located in the top 100 U.S. markets. "So it adds to our very significant presence in the top 100 markets where we've seen a lot of the revenue growth and leasing to date and where we think we're going to see even more in the future," he said.

Moreland said Crown Castle is using its towers, small cells and distributed antennas systems (DAS) to be the leading provider of shared infrastructure where carriers will spend the most capital to improve their networks. "It's where all the network capacity is needed," he said. "These sites we think over time are really going to add to that."

Reports from earlier this year had suggested that Crown was competing with American Tower as well as private equity firms in the bid to acquire T-Mobile's towers. Moreland said the towers and their location justified the price Crown paid. He said the purchase fits with Crown's $1 billion acquisition of DAS provider NextG Networks, which closed in April. The deals are about getting assets and technology to take advantage of carriers' desire to boost capacity in large urban markets, he said.

"We actually have a pretty firm view that the spending over the next 10 years will be different than what's happened in the prior 10 years," he said. Moreland reiterated Crown's view that small cells and DAS can make up 20-25 percent of the company's incremental growth; right now the small cell and DAS segment makes up only 5 percent of Crown's business.

On the regulatory front, Moreland said Crown Castle is pleased that collocation-by-right is the law of the land. The law says that a state or local government "may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station."

Moreland said the law's passage in February has been very beneficial for the infrastructure industry. "In many municipalities--I wouldn't say all--it will take the element of discretion out of the decision to allow existing structures to be improved and to provide more wireless broadband capability for the consumer," he said. "In a number of cases we're finding that the municipalities were actually looking for cover."

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