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The Edge

SBA pulls ahead in the edge computing race

Cell tower giant SBA Communications appears to be creating a sizable lead in the 5G industry's race to edge computing. The company recently disclosed that it is in the midst of operating or constructing 30-40 edge computing sites around the country – that's more than many of the company's competitors and customers.

"I would say we probably have either in operation or under construction 30 to 40 of these facilities," said SBA CEO Jeff Stoops on the company's recent quarterly conference call. "And the primary demand for them has been edge computing and fiber and cable regeneration. But what we found to be the key to success in this area is really the state of and the location of the tower site because where it's ready to go and it's close to or on top of existing fiber makes all that much more attractive. So on an absolute basis, yes, we've seen a lot of growth. On a financial basis, it's still, of course, very small. But we're encouraged by what we've seen."

(Source: kubala/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: kubala/Alamy Stock Photo)

Stoops said each site costs around $100,000.

The comments help clarify SBA's embrace of edge computing in general. The company built its first edge computing site in Boston in 2018 via a teaming with vendor Packet; Packet was subsequently acquired by data center giant Equinix. By 2020, SBA's edge computing outlook had hardened following its purchase of two bigger data centers (one in Chicago and one in Florida) and the company's promise to offer "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."

The company has since been offering purpose-built edge computing data center options for enterprise customers – complete with promises of 100% uptime, dynamic cooling and 24/7 on-site security – through its "SBA Edge" website. However, the company hasn't disclosed the extent of that operation, until now.

Sites upon sites

SBA's edge computing buildout appears to outstrip some of the efforts by its competitors and its customers.

For example, SBA's main cell tower rivals – Crown Castle and American Tower – each lay claim to just a handful of edge computing sites.

Crown Castle, for its part, invested into edge computing data center company Vapor IO in 2017. Vapor IO had promised to operate up to 100 edge computing sites by 2019. However, the company earlier this year counted just six commercial markets and another 26 that were "customer ready" – meaning, the sites sport concrete pads and available power and connectivity. The COVID-19 pandemic, and its ramifications, had a similar chilling effect on a number of other edge computing companies.

American Tower, meanwhile, has also discussed its interest in edge computing. Along those lines, it is working to purchase some bigger data centers in order to invest in the space. On American Tower's own edge computing website, where it too offers purpose-built edge computing data center sites, it lists just six edge computing site deployments.

Other players in the telecom industry offer similar edge computing site counts. For example, Verizon counts roughly two dozen public edge computing sites via its partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS). AT&T, meanwhile, will launch a dozen "edge zones" that it may open to developers at some point in the future. The company also this month will offer public edge sites via a partnership with Microsoft in Atlanta and Dallas.

T-Mobile, for its part, has partnered with Lumen Technologies for edge computing. Lumen has touted dozens of edge sites.

Similarly, cable company Cox has promised to launch more than 30 edge sites.

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

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