A cell site is a cellular telephone site where antennas and electronic communications equipment are placed, usually on a radio mast or tower or other elevated location, to create a cell (or adjacent cells) in a cellular network. The elevated structure typically supports wireless antennas, and one or more sets of transmitters/receivers, transceivers or digital processors, as well as primary and backup electrical power resources.
A cell site is sometimes incorrectly called a “cell tower”, even if the cell site antennas are mounted on a building rather than a tower. In fact, it’s likely that a majority of cell sites worldwide are located on structures other than towers. In GSM networks, the correct term is Base Transceiver Station, or Base Station. The term “base station site” might better reflect the increasing co-location of multiple mobile operators, and, therefore, multiple base stations at a single site. Depending on an operator’s technology, even a site hosting just a single mobile operator may house multiple base stations, each to serve a different air interface technology.
Some cities require that cell sites be inconspicuous, for example, blended with the surrounding area. Preserved treescapes can often hide cell towers inside an artificial tree or preserved tree. These installations are generally referred to as concealed cell sites or stealth cell sites.
The following is a list of the largest United States based cell site companies:
- American Tower- 28,000 United States Towers
- Crown Castle- 40,000 United States Towers
- SBA Communications- 15,000 United States Towers
- Global Tower Partners- 5,400 United States Towers
- TowerCo- 3,200 United States Towers
- Comcast- 800 United States Towers
- Tarpon- 200 United States Towers
AGL Magazine recently noted that almost 60% of tower operators control/own between 1–10 towers, while another 25% of tower owners have 11-100 towers.
We’ve listed the top three cell tower companies in the United States, along with the most recent numbers of assets we could find for each. As you can see, besides owning towers (upon which they lease space to wireless carriers), cell tower companies also enter into rooftop management agreements and purchase portfolios of leases from lease buyout companies. After the top three cell tower companies, wireless carriers (who act as both a service provider and a cell tower company) own the most cell towers.
A cell tower company’s business model is simple-they generate revenue by leasing space on their cell towers to wireless carriers. If you think of it in real estate terms, it is much like a retail strip mall project, whereby you obtain an anchor tenant and then build your space with the projection of adding additional tenants in the future. A cell tower is just a strip mall that is turned on its end and is vertical space rather than horizontal.
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