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Crown Castle blows $4.85 BEEELLION for rights to AT&T's cell towers

Listen, thanks for the cash, but we still need to use them, m'kay?

Engineers fitting antenna heads

Wireless infraco Crown Castle International has bought 600 cell mast sites from AT&T and secured leases on 9,100 more for $4.85bn in cash.

Crown Castle, which has been borrowing cash to buy up cellular infrastructure across America, will stump up the lump sum in exchange for outright ownership of the 600 sites, and exclusive use of the leased 9,100 masts.

That first decade of rental will cost AT&T $2.42bn, comprising $1,900 per site per month with an annual increase of two per cent. AT&T can then extend the lease as it wishes. Crown Castle, meanwhile, gets exclusive use of the 9,100 leased sites, and the ability to rent them out to AT&T competitors, not to mention the option to purchase when the individual leases expire – an average of 28 years from now.

That pushes Crown Castle's portfolio of sites to around 40,000 across the US, and continues the trend of mobile operators cashing up their assets to pay for 4G expansion and increased capacity as mobile usage continues to increase globally.

Crown Castle used to own a decent chunk of UK network infrastructure, but sold that off in 2004 to National Grid Transco. Following a daisy-chain of transactions that operation ended up as Arqiva, which today runs just about all UK telly broadcast sites – and a significant proportion of those hosting mobile operators, too.

Across the USA, Crown Castle is the largest infrastructure owner by a significant margin. It also has small operations in other markets (50, according to the company) but the 1,700 sites in Australia is what justifies the "International" appendage to the name.

Mobile operators around the world are divesting themselves of as much infrastructure as they can, both to raise expansion cash and because (ultimately) they're not very good at land management. A company like Crown Castle, or Arqiva, is better placed to negotiate with landlords and facilitate site-sharing. In turn this provides a stepping-stone towards network sharing, which is beneficial to (almost) everyone. ®

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