Tilson gets $100M investment to help support 5G builds

Portland Maine
Tilson is based in Portland, Maine. (Pixabay)

One might say privately held Tilson is in the thick of things, 5G-wise. Its business includes small cell deployment, in-building coverage and fiber, and it’s growing like gangbusters.

The company just announced the completion of a transaction through which funds managed by SDC Capital Partners will invest up to $100 million in the company. The investment will support Tilson's continued expansion of nationwide network infrastructure design-build services, and enable the spinout of Tilson's asset ownership affiliate, SQF.

“This is about growth for us,” Tilson CEO Joshua Broder told FierceWirelessTech. “As carriers draw back the bowstring here to release the 5G arrows, we want to make sure that we’re ready to support them with the size and scale projects that they’re asking of us.”

The company’s headquarters is in Portland, Maine, but it has an office in Portland, Oregon, as well. All told, it has about 23 offices across the country and about 550 employees. It works with all four major U.S. wireless operators in some capacity or other, as well as other operators, but not cable. Broder said there’s no particular reason for that, but “we hope they’re very successful in wireless,” he said of the cable companies.

Tilson has landed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies for the past eight years in a row, and there’s more growth to come. Along with 5G gear, company expects to deploy a lot of Citizens Broadband Radio Service, but it’s still early days for that, as well as for Licensed Assisted Access.

The company has an in-building services division, and Broder said he uses that term specifically because often, such deployments are not a distributed antenna system (DAS) anymore. The company tends to see the true DAS deployments in larger venues like sports stadiums, but in the smaller office buildings, it’s often a system that’s technically not a DAS, but effectively accomplishes the same kind of RF distribution.

Operators often talk about the importance of fiber in their 5G deployments, but fiber isn’t everywhere, which would seem to present a challenge.

“I think it’s a challenge and an opportunity depending on what hat you’re wearing,” Broder said. It’s a challenge in that 5G is a technology that requires a lot of density, meaning a lot of sites, and that means a lot of fiber. In a traditional macro build, if you were to construct a map on paper connecting the sites, you’d see a lot of white in between. With a dense fiber build like 5G requires, the map starts to fill with a lot of dots and there’s a lot less white; it becomes gray.

There’s a cost to that, and there are places that are hard to reach, like underground or under highways, leading to more costs and longer times to deploy. All of this comes as there’s not a lot of new customer revenue.

At the same time, there’s a tremendous pressure to get to market quickly—and that reflects a situation that’s hypercompetitive and one where customers’ data demands are increasing every day. Fundamentally, it means being frugal.

“We have to be very innovative in the way we deliver these,” he said. “We have to go in there surgically, thoughtfully,” with finesse and forethought. Broder said his company has figure out how to do it—and that’s a competitive advantage that he’s going to keep close to the vest.

However, he did share this: “Having the best people helps a lot,” he said, which is why the company set out to become a place where creative and thoughtful engineers would want to come to work. “That’s the competitive advantage that we found,” he said.

And it’s working? “It’s working,” he replied.