Reports over the holiday that derive from Guggenheim Equity Research suggest that Crown Castle has some major plans for small cells. Specifically, the tower and fiber operator will be adding more than 25,000 small cell sites to its portfolio, more than doubling the 20K the company has in place today.
Crown Castle has been forging a unique path over the last few years, buying metro and regional fiber assets to go with its towers in anticipation of the upcoming buildout of the next generation of wireless infrastructure. Last month they closed the acquisition of Wilcon, dramatically boosting their position in southern California. Before that deal came similar moves with FPL Fibernet, Sunesys, and 24/7 Fiber Network.
Meanwhile, they are in the thick of just about every bit of deal talk for other US fiber assets, the biggest of which right now is probably for Lightower.
But while Crown Castle has been acquiring fiber assets, they haven't done much integration work yet and have been mostly operating the acquired companies as independent subsidiaries. Given the scope of these small cell build-out plans, I suspect bringing all the fiber under one roof will happen sooner or later.
The report has Crown spending some $1.2B over the next two years to add those 25K small cell sites to its portfolio. There are also plans to target adding 10K small cell nodes per year on a sustained basis. They will then take that density to market with the major wireless operators, each of which is at its own stage of planning for the 5G rollout to come.