Telecom tower specialists are accelerating the pace of their edge computing deployments as they lay the foundation for a bigger business opportunity in the future, tower operator executives said in recent earnings calls with Wall Street analysts.
With the emergence of edge computing, a growing number of wireless companies have acquired data center assets, preparing for a future with greater integration between data centers, towers telecommunications and antennas.
Edge Computing moves data processing and services as close to the end user as possible. The trend has been spurred by the increased use of consumer mobile devices, particularly the consumption of video and virtual reality content and the growth of sensors as part of the Internet of Things. But edge computing also supports cross-enterprise applications that require low latency.
Tower companies like American Tower and SBA Communications are emerging as potentially major players in the cloud landscape, with the ability to build, buy, or partner with other edge-focused companies. These companies own real estate at the base of call towers around the world and have learned the data center business to understand the components of a successful edge computing network.
The approach taken by these key infrastructure players reflects the broader realities of the growth of edge computing, which has not kept pace with some of the early massive growth projections. But edge-focused deployments have accelerated over the past two years, with cloud platforms and content delivery specialists are stepping up their investments, and tower companies aim to be key players in this ecosystem.
American Tower is working toward a future in which its network of 43,000 communications towers across North America serve as an extension of the cloud, bringing content from massive server farms to the network edge.
Data centers will be the connective tissue of the company’s vision for edge computing, which is why American Tower paid $10.1 billion to acquire data center operator CoreSite the year last. This strategy continues to move forward as American Tower refines its strategy.
“Over the next few months, we plan to open our first 1 megawatt state-of-the-art facility and owned tower site to build on our understanding of market demand and customer requirements,” said Tom Bartlett, chairman and CEO of American Tower, who said the company is looking to “design a plan that can be deployed at scale as the edge ecosystem grows and demonstrate the differentiated value proposition that American Tower and CoreSite can offer potential customers”.
“To date, our team has identified over 1,000 sites within our existing US tower portfolio that we consider ready candidates for location-based mobile edge deployment. , parcel footprint, land control and existing fiber and power access,” Bartlett added.
The CoreSite deal was a bold step forward in data centers for American Tower, which is the world’s largest owner of wireless infrastructure. It actively explored edge computing opportunities that would allow it to monetize edge capacity across its thousands of tower sites. But American Tower discovered that the current gateway to the edge is the heart of the network, where CoreSite is a seasoned player.
“Having now owned CoreSite for more than three quarters, we couldn’t be happier with the performance we’re seeing across the business and the use cases driving rental activity, which we believe will serve growth catalysts going forward,” Bartlett said.
“As we look further, we expect workloads to become even more distributed and localized,” he continued. “As a result, we see the importance of an interconnection hub like CoreSite increasing as customers seek to future-proof their digital businesses…as enterprises transition to a more personalized hybrid multi-cloud computing environment – and , most importantly, require extensive edge computing presence to support scalable, low-latency applications.”
American Tower’s strategy aims to position the company in an evolving landscape in which historical boundaries between different classes of infrastructure are beginning to blur.
“The mobile edge is emerging as a critical area in the convergence of wireless and wired networks,” Bartlett said, adding that American Tower is considering “forging a partnership with a cloud and enterprise technology platform to better prepare to the requirements of the network of the future”.
SBA Communications President and CEO Jeff Stoops said the company hopes to build a major edge computing network, which will include both data centers and infrastructure at the base of its towers.
“We’ve actually seen great progress,” Stoops said. “We probably have 30 to 40 of these facilities in operation or under construction. The main demand for them has been edge computing and fiber and cable regeneration.
“In absolute terms, we’ve seen strong growth,” Stoops said. “Financially it is still, of course, very small. But we are encouraged by what we have seen.”
SBA operates more than 30,000 tower sites and has acquired two data centers – the JaxNAP Transportation Hotel in Jacksonville and New Continuum Data Centers in suburban Chicago – to form the core of its SBA Edge business. The company says it scanned its network to identify about 8,000 potential edge sites.
“We are really pleased with the additional return on investment for these projects,” Stoops said. “They’re mostly 6×12 or 10×20 foot shelters that look like the traditional wireless shelter that some carriers have used historically. They have air conditioning. They have a lot of logistics to check temperatures and alarms. They’re basically intended for equipment racks, and they start with a capacity of two or three racks and can be expanded beyond that.”
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