Big tower M&A deal


Crown Castle International announced a $1 billion deal to acquire NextG Networks Inc. Rather than tall towers, or even smaller cell towers, NextG operates distributed antenna systems (DAS) – the fast-growing new small cell technology. DAS is a network of antennas connected by fiber to a communications hub designed to facilitate wireless communications services for multiple operators.

NextG has over 7,000 nodes-on-air and a further 1,500 nodes under construction. In addition, NextG has rights to over 4,600 miles of fiber.

Crown Castle said the acquisition will expand Crown Castle’s portfolio of DAS, providing additional wireless coverage and capacity solutions to customers beyond those areas traditionally served by towers. The acquisition is expected to close in Q2 of 2012.

“Increasingly, we believe that small-cell architecture, such as DAS, will be an important complement to traditional macro tower installations,” said Ben Moreland, Crown Castle’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “We are very pleased with our anticipated acquisition of NextG, which furthers our ability to extend wireless infrastructure beyond those areas traditionally served by towers, thereby broadening our service offering in this growing market and positioning us to benefit from the continued demand for wireless data.”

Over 90% of NextG nodes are in urban and suburban locations, with 80% in the top 10 US metropolitan areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. Following the contemplated acquisition, Crown Castle expects to be the largest independent DAS operator in the US, with approximately 10,000 nodes and 26 venues in operation or under construction.

RBR-TVBR observation: Towers will continue to be valuable real estate as wireless demand continues to grow. But technologies like DAS will make it possible to reuse spectrum in the most densely populated areas.