Talk about mixed signals. It's tough to get a
true line on demand for cellular towers this year when it
varies markedly from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some
saying demand in the first quarter was up as much as 30 percent
and others saying it was down 35 percent.
"We have seen demand explode in the first
quarter and have built about 200 self-supporting towers in the
past month, which is up about 30 percent from last year," Beau
Aero, project manager for Glen Martin Engineering Inc.,
Boonville, Mo., said, attributing much of this demand to the
Federal Communications Commission's auctioning of the 1.7- to
2.1-gigahertz spectrum in late 2006, which resulted in the
issuance of numerous new FCC operators' licenses to national
and regional wireless providers. This has allowed a few new
players to get into the industry, some existing companies to
get new networks and some regional players to "go national," he
"People are moving into new areas-to the
suburbs and to other areas of the country. Anytime there are
new subdivisions being built, there is a need for new towers,"
Aero said, adding "The international market is growing as well
and there has been some building of new infrastructure."
Aero is optimistic that this growth in
infrastructure investment, both domestically and
internationally, will continue. "A lot of people's lives are
tied to their cell phones. People continue to demand technology
for both their business and personal lives, no matter the
economy," he said.
Lisa Ogden, business development manager at
Nello Corp., Nappanee, Ind., sees it quite differently. She
said that with most new service being dealt with through
co-locations-an increased number of carriers located on each
tower-new builds were down about 35 percent in 2007. "And I
don't think they will pick up at least until the end of this
While carriers' overall capital expenditures
might not be down, "they are spending on other things than
towers, including enhancing and maintaining networks," she
Mike Coghlan, national sales manager at Sabre
Towers & Poles, Sioux City, Iowa, falls somewhere in
between those two points of view. He sees demand as "steady"
and calls for "a slight increase" this year, adding that there
are clearly opportunities for growth. "There has been an
increase in sales of handsets and there has also been an
increase in text messaging, accessing of streaming media with
cell phones and a general move from just voice to data as
well," he said. But at the same time, the "not in my backyard"
(Nimby) attitude is increasing. "As a result, we are seeing
increased demand for monopole towers, including some that are
disguised to look like other things, such as pine or palm
trees. That appears to have helped somewhat," Coghlan said.
Such "stealthing" of cellular towers has
become necessary to allow the towers to meet certain
increasingly stringent zoning requirements, especially in
cities and denser population areas, Ogden said.
"Neighborhoods are more likely to allow them
than the traditional lattice, self-supporting towers," Aero
But there has even been some waning
acceptance of disguised towers, according to Coghlan. "Initial
acceptance was actually relatively high, but that brought in a
lot of low-quality vendors and, as a result, some sites that
have been up for three to four years are not looking as good as
they did initially, especially those who used lower-quality
materials," he said.
Increases in commodity prices are boosting
costs to carriers, but they have been able to pass higher costs
through to subscribers without causing any slowdown in demand,