The Wireless Communications Industry – Who the Players Are and How the Game is Played
In 1996, the wireless communications industry was fairly straightforward. There were two major players, Wireless Carriers and Cell Tower Companies, operating in an era that was similar to the Wild West – a first come first serve race to claim land in potentially lucrative territories. However, unlike the Wild West, the ultimate motivation was not simply sustenance – but profit. The goal of the wireless carriers was to fulfill the ever-growing demands of their customer base for wireless services. The goal of the tower companies was to get there first. Another difference between the two eras was that during the Telecom race, the land was not unchartered. Indeed, it already belonged to someone. Enter the third major player – the individual Landowner. Private landowners were party to a lease that allowed a company to lease a parcel of their land on which to build a cell tower. Sounds simple, right? But there was one further, and significant difference between the two eras. During the Telecom race, no one was thinking 20-30 years into the future when their leases would expire. They were simply trying to profit in the present.
In 2004, Steel In the Air gained the stage as the very first nationwide landowner-centric cell tower consultants. At that time, lease buyout companies (companies that buy existing long-term rental payments in exchange for a singular lump sump payment) were just concepts, and lease optimization companies (companies that work on behalf of one of the parties, e.g. landowners or wireless carriers, to optimize favorable lease terms) were non-existent. In fact, the entire "telecom" industry had suffered a slowdown due to the economic downturn following 9/11/2001. Tower companies and wireless carriers were underestimating the value of long term leases and restrictive rights of first refusal clauses in their lease agreements because they were focusing too much on the short term.
Fast forward to today, when at any one time, there are at least six pro-active lease buyout companies competing for the rights to existing cell site leases, and two dominant lease optimization companies who profit solely from (re)negotiating the terms of cell site leases. The major public tower companies have grown exponentially, although there are fewer now than ever before. Niche industries have popped up to fulfill specific markets that are based on either convincing landowners that their leases are worth nothing (lease optimization companies) or that their leases are highly volatile, yet valuable commodities that should be sold now to avoid future risk (lease buyout companies). In other words, cell tower and cell site leases are being valued based upon the motives of the players who are contacting you – as opposed to their fair market value.
For the past decade, Steel in the Air has remained dedicated to servicing landowners in negotiations against cell tower owners and wireless companies. We also represent landowners in negotiations with lease buyout and optimization companies. We began our company with a commitment to ethical, reputable, fair market evaluations and advice, and we have never deviated from this course. We have partnered with Cell Tower Attorney (to assist landowners with specific legal issues related to cell tower leases rights and obligations) and Steel Tree Partners (a company specializing in cell tower valuation for investors, appraisers and small cell tower owners), and have expanded to meet the needs of our 2,500 plus clients nationwide.
Click here to read our featured article: The History of U.S. Wireless Carriers: 1877 – Present