What does a TowerCo “look like”? (introduction to Real Estate for Telecom)

When I mention “TowerCos” (Tower Companies), real estate companies that are like an apartment building landlord… but for towers, I can see the confusion in people’s eyes. Essentially, the tenants (renters) are antennas that get mounted to the tower (apartment building). What’s the best way to visualize what one looks like? Well, just look at their advertising – they have towers for rent! Here’s an advertisement showing that they have acquired new towers in the following USA geographic locations.

American Tower Advertisement (click to enlarge)

The TowerCo industry itself comprises many companies across the globe. TowerCos already own 2/3rds of the world’s 3 Million towers. In the USA TowerCos own ~61% of the ~270K towers. In Canada, that figure is less than 5%.

TowerCo ownership, or companies that are exclusively real estate (do not sell telecom services), are a key indicator for broadband costs (e.g. cell phone data plans) since they offer a business model that promotes sharing and reduces costs. More about how the TowerCo business model reduces costs on my slideshare presentation entitled “Broadband Internet – The ‘Railroad of Our Era'”.

In the USA the top 3 tower companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange are:

  • SBA Communications
  • American Tower
  • Crown Castle

All three operate as “Real Estate Investment Trusts” (REITs), further confirming that they are real estate companies. Collectively they own, lease and manage 95,000 towers and are worth $69 Billion. One of these top 3 companies, SBA, has moved into Canada with a subsidiary called SBA Canada. (@ early 2014) The other major TowerCo in Canada is Turris Corp.

Major data source for this post:

http://www.towerxchange.com/

UofC Alumni Speaking Engagement – Calgary Oct 22, 2015

I am honored to be speaking to my Alumni association, Computer Science Chapter, on October 22, 2015 from 6-8:30pm (6pm food, 7pm I start talking).
http://alumni.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/index_files/UpcomingEvents.htm

If anyone is interested in coming and is not an Alumni, please let me know and I’ll check if it is open to non-Alumni.

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Biography
Trevor Textor thinks a lot about broadband internet and sometimes cell phone plans. You know, it hurts, but sometimes you have to. He has pivot tabled these subjects to death and has come to some conclusions. For instance, he discovered why cell phone plans are so expensive in Canada and why that’s unlikely to change much without Canada having an Open Access Network business model for telecommunications. While trying to convince businesses to use broadband internet services that actually work, and pay the corresponding price, he stumbled over some other really interesting things. These things brought him to the conclusion that broadband is the “railroad” of our era and how it critically impacts democracy.

Topics

Why are cell phone plans so expensive in Canada?
The cost of service has little to do with the radio services themselves, it’s all about infrastructure. In Canada the big 3 telecommunications companies maintain a monopoly on this infrastructure and this monopoly is regulated via the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). But even with regulation, it is not encouraging the right behaviour with respect to infrastructure so that savings can trickle down to consumers. Trevor will explain how an “Open Access Network” (OAN) business model benefits Canadians and how an infrastructure marketplace could scale it.

Broadband is the “railroad” of our era and is critical to democracy.
The United Nations says it best: “… [A]ffordable broadband connectivity to the Internet is a foundation stone of modern society…Broadband does not just comprise infrastructure; today, widespread broadband connectivity offers the prospects of new services and an information revolution to change – and challenge – our very approach to development.” Trevor will walk through the socioeconomics of broadband and the future technologies that will drive broadband growth.

Do we need gigabit broadband? Do we need fiber?

Do we need it now? No. This question deflects from the true purpose of this infrastructure upgrade. A plant cannot grow without first planting the seed. So let me explain why the world needs fiber and gigabit.

The main issue is about an end-of-life asset (copper) versus a 100-year or more asset (single mode fiber, SMF). There is no theoretical speed limit for SMF (at least not yet). Therefore, once installed, there will not be a need to dig it up or do anything special other than replace the fiber transceivers on each end. Copper, on the other hand, is at the end of its useful life. Small incremental improvements are being made but we can see the end of copper in our lifetime. New cable installations are now almost exclusively SMF.

Here’s the bandwidth side; the side everyone seems to focus on. Don’t think of technology as it is known today. And remember that when companies put fiber in the ground, they are thinking very long term. First off, think video. Don’t think about anything else. None of it generates traffic like video does. Video killed the internet star. (thanks Netflix, thanks YouTube)

Here’s the best example of the future. Think “telepresence”. Telepresence is immersive video calls – not the un-immersive video calls we’re all used to now. You actually feel like you are there with the person. I’ve personally experienced telepresence. And since then I experience intense disappointment at launching typical internet video. I’m spoiled now.  The question is, will telepresence become inexpensive enough to be used in everyday contexts? Does the earth revolve around the sun?

Think of what telepresence might mean for medicine (“house calls”) or business meetings (way less airline travel) or the environment (with so many less flights!).

What does telepresence mean in terms of bandwidth? Telepresence is 20mbps per session for HD (1080p). Ultra HD (4K) is something like 6x that requirement or 120mbps. Compare that to today’s video streams for Netflix which is 2Mbps HD & 12Mbps for UltraHD (4K).

Now think about multiple people in a household launching simultaneous telepresence sessions. The gigabit threshold is now being pushed! Now think about aggregate “highway” for just the block you live in. How much will multiple households push? LOTS!  How much will the city generate? (expletive amount!)  How much will the country generate? (GAH!) How much will the world generate!? (Ahhhhh!!!!)

Should we start preparing for this now? Or wait until this happens and then wait another 5-10 years while every road and sidewalk to be dug up at the same time? And complain about it the whole time? (how we can’t move with so much construction)

I know what I prefer. I prefer telecom companies to start being proactive right now. And it would be great if my house has access to fiber. Even if I don’t need it right now.

And let’s put the internet in context. The internet and bandwidth to that internet is the “railroad” of our era. Our very way of life now depends on it. The UN has recognized that democracy depends on internet speed and has started a commission on broadband. Every single first world nation and many hundreds of nations have federal funding to build broadband infrastructure. The technology that rides on top the internet has the ability to help catapult so many game changers that many unsolvable world problems might become solvable.

And all this technology rides on a nation’s, a household’s ability to access it (broadband).

There, does that put Gigabit and fiber in context?

More on telepresence:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telepresence

The End of Emergency Broadcasts – Now a Pull, Not a Push

One would think an emergency broadcast makes sense for everyone. What I noticed today was that my shortwave weather radio has a weekly test so you know you’re getting broadcasts. Then I noticed that I receive emergency alerts via twitter & email; neither of which have test messages. Presumably because we are all so afraid of “spam”?  Never mind that in the modern age, you can use filters to put the test messages in a folder you don’t see unless you want to confirm your getting emergency messages.

I think I’m on to something profound here but not exactly sure what it is… Hopefully twitter and email work in the Zombie Apocalypse.

Is Canada Moving to an Open Access Network?

By the CRTC mandating that telecom companies must share their passive broadband infrastructure might mean that Canada is moving toward an OAN. That means companies might actually need to show a return on investment for their passive infrastructure assets (fiber, conduit, towers) rather than using them to block competition. I’m all for the Telecom companies making a profit (I’m a shareholder of many of them) but I’d rather they do it on the service side in open, honest competition. We know from experience that competition drives companies to be innovative. I would like all the Telecom companies I own to be around for a long, long time and the “we’ve always done it this way” (no innovation) is going to kill them.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/07/30/this-controversial-internet-policy-has-divided-americans-for-years-now-canadas-just-adopted-it/

http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=tp&crtr.page=1&nid=1004669&crtr.tp1D=1

Who says satellite is the only option for offshore?

Tampnet owns the largest offshore 4G network (which is its deployment in the UK’s North Sea – a significant Oil & Gas area similar to the Gulf of Mexico).

Tampnet just acquired Broadpoint (July 21, 2015) who owned 50 2G base stations in the GoM – and has plans to upgrade them to 4G.
http://www.tampnet.com/tampnet-to-acquire-telecom-infrastructure-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-from-broadpoint-and-enter-into-partnership-with-a-leading-telecom-carrier/

North Sea Coverage map:
http://www.tampnet.com/north-sea/

GoM Coverage map:
http://www.tampnet.com/gulf-of-mexico/

There is no “Spectrum Crisis”

Licensing of spectrum may be used to form monopolies, not serve customers. Instead, this article suggests spectrum should be license exempt and that Telecom companies should adopt new RF technology that better delivers signals without interference. Interestingly, not even the inventor of the cellphone, Martin Cooper, believes there is a spectrum crisis.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/technology/mobile-carriers-warn-of-spectrum-crisis-others-see-hyperbole.html

What Sensors & Big Data Can Lead To

This planet money follows a UPS truck where sensors & big data lead to small changes that make large bottom line impacts: 1 minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5M. One keystroke per driver costs $100K/year. 1 minute of idle per driver per day is worth $500K in additional fuel costs at the end of the year. Shaving all this time via efficiencies worked for the workers too. In the last decade, their wages & benefits have doubled.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/05/02/308640135/episode-536-the-future-of-work-looks-like-a-ups-truck

Surface-based Broadband For Ships in the Gulf of Mexico

Infrastructure Networks, Inc. (INET) just announced that it is piloting a cellular LTE deployment for the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). This is not the first terrestrial seamless roaming broadband wireless deployment I’ve seen for ships but it’s the first commercial one. The other case study I’ve come across was a WiMAX deployment completed by Accenture for the Italian Coast Guard in 2013. The Accenture deployment was a completely coast based service delivery extending 12 nautical miles offshore. I expect that INET will be using communication buoys (floating communications towers) to extend the service into the GoM.

Including terrestrial wireless services in frequent traffic areas is crucial with keeping up with the driving need for increased broadband and will offload satellite for where it is most needed: remote, undeveloped, low traffic areas.

Official Press Release: http://www.infrastructurenetworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/INET-GoM_LTE_Pilot.pdf

PR Newswire summary: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/infrastructure-networks-inc-announces-pilot-lte-deployment-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-300043579.html