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It’s time for TowerCos to think big

15 Dec 2021

The rise of the TowerCo – In 50 years, TowerCos will look back on the 20s as a turning point.

This is the decade when TowerCos will begin to break out of their critical – but limited – role as attendants to telecom, and become the enablers of entire systems of connectivity. Let’s take a moment to take stock of where we are, and then shift our eyes down the road.

The carving out of TowerCos gifted MNOs with new agility at a crucial time. Freed from the weight of tower management, and bolstered by the capital raised from their sales, MNOs were able to focus on territorial expansion and densification as well as new technologies, such as 5G. TowerCos went in a different direction, maintaining the neutral network infrastructure that MNOs rely on, and also beginning to expand into more diversified and specified offers. Today TowerCos are the essential nodes of the revenue streams of a 2.7 trillion dollar global industry, and as real estate they have the potential to provide multiple niche offers to local municipalities. Thus, in both the market and in physical space, they hold an extremely valuable position with the potential for explosive growth. What are these opportunities, and what can TowerCos do to capitalize on them? Let’s break it down.

A new value proposition

We propose a new model, dividing the revenue available to TowerCos into three parts:

Core business

TowerCos’ core business consists of operating neutral network infrastructure – often with multiple tenants – with long tenure contracts, escalators and carefully controlled cancellation terms. Up to now, many TowerCos have been focusing entirely on core business. Some, though, are beginning to take the first step towards the future of TowerCo offerings by diversifying their existing assets. As owners of distributed, power backed – and increasingly fiberized – sites, TowerCos can capitalize on streams adjacent to real estate, such as installation & equipment, operation & maintenance of RAN equipment (antennae, radio equipment, fronthaul) or small cells & indoor coverage. Services such as these are a natural fit for TowerCos, and provide helpful support for telecom clients.

Diversified assets

Another big area to explore is in the provisioning of small cells, whether those are owned by the TowerCo or through partnerships with fiber companies. The provision of small cell solutions by TowerCos can support MNOs in sites where coverage with macro sites would be inadequate or extremely expensive, which is especially important for dense areas such as apartment buildings or college campuses. For TowerCos considering such a move, the time to act is now. Small cell deployment will increase exponentially in the near future: as 5G unlocks new uses cases in critical application areas – namely remote surgery, autonomous vehicles and remote control – ultra-reliable low-latency networks will be needed, and these require a level of densification that is only practical with small cells.

Value-added services

Finally, value-added services could soon provide TowerCos with multiple new sources of revenue. One particularly lucrative area is in connectivity and asset enhancement, introducing services linked to fiber and edge computing. In the shift to 5G the need for fiber is expected to surge, a trend which TowerCos could capitalize on by leasing fiber assets. Likewise, as edge computing grows TowerCos are perfectly positioned to lease out mini data centers located close to their towers, thus benefitting from existing power and connectivity, and scaled to meet clients’ precise computing needs in a given area. IoT and ICT present further opportunities – smart city and energy services have the same kind of distributed infrastructure needs as cell phone networks, and could thus benefit from collaboration with TowerCos.

The expansion into new business areas is underway. American Tower Corporation was capitalizing on these opportunities as early as 2017, in a project with Philips Lighting. The two teamed up to develop “Smart Poles” which embed multiple capabilities into streetlights, thus enabling a wide range of connectivity services in dense urban areas. The innovative collaboration earned them 1st place in the 2018 IoT Breakthrough Awards, and positions them as the go-to provider for future smart infrastructure installations.

In another more recent example, in February 2021 Vantage Towers signed a partnership with telecommunications provider Sigfox Germany, who are rolling out a new IoT service. The IoT provider is now able to expand its low bandwidth “0G” network, a vital feature essential for transmission of small amounts of data, extending their potential for the smart city ecosystem. For Vantage the deal means not only a new tenant, but also a step towards a new business model – enabling not just telecommunications, but digital society as a whole. In this new role, TowerCos will drive industries and cities to evolve into smart entities, optimizing carbon usage, security, lighting and infrastructure. What TowerCos currently do for telecommunications, they may soon be doing for digital services across the board.

Who will take the lead?

Only one thing is holding TowerCos back, and it’s about to change. Along with their physical real estate, TowerCos inherited a number of static processes. In an industry driven by digital, most TowerCos still rely on manual processes and nonintegrated pricing, quoting, contract, project and revenue management systems. What TowerCos need today is the ability to provide fast and efficient services, as well as a more customer-centric experience. This requires investments in digital capabilities. Some TowerCos have already started making the switch to digital operations, and we predict that going forwards, the lion’s share of new opportunities will fall to these new digital TowerCos.

TowerCos are facing a unique opportunity for growth, to embrace new business models, increase innovation, and launch new targeted services quickly. These are the topics we’ll be discussing in this blog series, as we explore the opportunities available to digital TowerCos. The next few years will be crucial. Of one thing we’re certain – 50 years from now, no one will look back thinking, ‘I wish we had waited longer to go digital.”

To share your experience and questions, and to learn more about the process of digitization, contact either of us: Vincenzo Ditaranto or Vincenzo Pasqualucci

TelcoInsights is a series of posts about the latest trends and opportunities in the telecommunications industry – powered by a community of global industry experts and thought leaders.

About the authors:

Vincenzo DitarantoManaging Consultant, TMT, Capgemini InventVincenzo Ditaranto is a Capgemini Invent Manager with 15+ years of consulting experience in the Telecom and InfraCo industries. Thanks to his deep knowledge of network technologies and IoT solutions he advises clients on their connectivity strategies, operating models, and transformation programs.
Vincenzo PasqualucciSenior Consultant, TMT, Capgemini InventVincenzo is a Capgemini Invent Senior Consultant with a strong passion for innovation, technology, and strategy advisory. He advises and supports clients in ramping up international and digital projects and adopting digital technologies with a specific focus on the TowerCo sector.