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The Edge

SBA, American Tower double down on edge computing opportunity

Two of the nation's biggest cell tower companies are significantly expanding their edge computing ambitions. They aim to own and operate potentially thousands of mini data centers for edge computing at the base of their cell towers.

"We're excited about the potential of this value-added business line and are in discussions with a number of interested parties about a range of our expanding capabilities in this area," SBA Communications CEO Jeffrey Stoops said this week during his company's quarterly call with investors, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. "Based on the increasing number of conversations we're having, we are optimistic that this will happen in the years to come."

Stoops announced that SBA recently purchased 25 cell tower sites and one data center for $61.6 million. The data center, called JaxNAP, is in Jacksonville, Florida, and sports 280,000 square feet of computing space along with interconnections to 20 fiber providers, including subsea telecommunications routes for international communications.

"JaxNAP will allow us to develop deeper datacenter capabilities and further enhance our tower/edge/data center value proposition through increased interconnection and operational knowledge," Stoops explained.

The data center is SBA's second; the company purchased one in Chicago last year. The company is selling computing services under its new SBA Edge brand.

"We currently have over 8,000 pre-qualified tower sites in the US as locations where we can situate an edge data center with access to secure space, power and fiber," Stoops explained. "These tower edge datacenters will provide co-location options for customers' computing infrastructure with connectivity to a larger metro data center for Internet for private network connectivity."

SBA's newest data center, with 280,000 square feet of space, isn't exactly a mini computing operation. But Stoops explained that SBA's edge computing customers are all transitioning from larger data centers to smaller data centers in less populated locations, and so SBA wanted to invest in bigger datacenters first in order to better track its customers' transition to the edge.

"We will understand what the relationships are between the absolute edge, which is what ultimately will be our forte, and the datacenter aggregation points along the way that will be necessary to make it all work," he said.

As for American Tower, the company similarly acquired the Atlanta-based ColoATL datacenter, covering 26,000 square feet, in 2019. More recently, American Tower unveiled its American Tower Edge service that sports edge computing data modules at the base of cell towers in six cities: Atlanta, Jacksonville, Denver, Boulder, Austin and Pittsburgh.

Taken together, the actions reflect millions of dollars worth of investments by two of the country's biggest cell tower owners into the edge computing opportunity.

However, SBA and American Tower aren't the only companies looking for a piece of the action in edge computing. For example, Amazon is working to flesh out its own edge computing service with the likes of Verizon and Vodafone, while content delivery network operator Akamai said its edge computing operations already span 4,000 locations and $2 billion in revenues.

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

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