5G and Beyond

T-Mobile inks $17B deal for 5G cell towers

After a short but surprising lag, T-Mobile announced it signed a cell tower agreement with American Tower that's worth $17 billion over 15 years.

And financial analysts believe that T-Mobile will soon ink similar rental agreements with the market's other two major cell tower owners, Crown Castle and SBA Communications.

"Through our multiyear agreement with American Tower, we've secured T-Mobile's ability not only to accelerate our aggressive 5G build, but also to continue to deliver connectivity for our customers well into the future," T-Mobile network chief Neville Ray said in a release.

"The agreement is positive for T-Mobile as it will enable them to integrate Sprint's spectrum, and decommission Sprint's legacy sites, at a faster pace than they otherwise would have," wrote the financial analysts at New Street Research shortly after American Tower and T-Mobile announced their new deal. "The long duration of the agreement will allow them to complete future 5G builds at a faster pace as well."

The analysts noted that typical cell tower agreements in the US last for ten years.

The agreement between T-Mobile and American Tower comes just weeks after T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert accused tower companies like American Tower of "spreading some disinformation about our [5G buildout] pace."

That statement was in response to comments this summer from SBA Communications, American Tower and Crown Castle – executives from all the companies suggested that T-Mobile's 5G network buildout was moving more slowly than they had expected.

"Although we have seen a modest increase in activity, it has not yet reached the level we expect to eventually see, based on T-Mobile's public comments," Rod Smith, American Tower's CFO, said at the end of July.

T-Mobile, for its part, has maintained that it is moving full steam ahead on a 5G network upgrade program totaling $60 billion over the next five years.

Indeed, T-Mobile's Ray said just last week at the Mobile Future Forward event produced by Chetan Sharma Consulting that "we're moving at a remarkable pace." He said the operator has been upgrading up to 2,500 cell sites per month, and that customers nationwide ought to see the results throughout next year and 2022.

As noted by Inside Towers, American Tower owns around 41,000 of the roughly 200,000 cell towers in the US. As part of its 5G upgrade program, T-Mobile has said it hopes to reduce its current 110,000 cell towers across the Sprint and T-Mobile networks by shuttering 35,000 unnecessary towers and building 10,000 new towers in order to end its network upgrade project with a total of 85,000 towers.

The apparent delay between the closing of the T-Mobile and Sprint merger in April and Tuesday's agreement between T-Mobile and American Tower could be due to a variety of factors, including T-Mobile's efforts to obtain better terms.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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