Dish Network and Vertical Bridge REIT have reached a long-term agreement granting Dish access to Vertical Bridge’s portfolio of towers, rooftops, utility transmission structures, billboards, convenience stores and other sites used for wireless infrastructure deployment. Vertical Bridge has a portfolio of more than 300,000 sites in 50 states and Puerto Rico.
“Building a national 5G network requires an extensive presence across urban, suburban and rural areas, and Vertical Bridge’s portfolio offers Dish the array of coverage that we need,” said Dave Mayo, Dish executive vice president of network development. “As we continue to deploy Dish’s 5G network, Vertical Bridge’s assets, experience and commitment make them an invaluable partner.”
Alex Gellman, CEO and cofounder of Vertical Bridge, said that the tower company is committed to assisting Dish in its effort to build “a truly unique” 5G network. Just a couple days after the signing of the lease agreement, Dish had already begun signing lease agreements.
“It’s nice to get this important step behind us, so that we can really get to work on identifying sites, vetting them, leasing them and helping them get them built,” Gellman said.
In 2020, Dish became a nationwide U.S. wireless carrier through the acquisition of Boost Mobile. The company is building a cloud-native, Open RAN-based 5G broadband network. Now it is under pressure to build out a 5G network before FCC deadlines that require it to use its spectrum.
It is the second tower leasing agreement that Dish has signed. Crown Castle announced a long-term agreement with Dish last November through which the tower company will lease Dish space on up to 20,000 cell towers. Gellman said he believed Dish was drawn by the fact that Vertical Bridge is the largest private tower company and growing quickly, as well as the relationships developed over the years.
Vertical Bridge added more the 1,000 owned towers to its portfolio in 2020, including those from its acquisition of towers from Cumulus Media, its merger with Eco-Site and with newly built towers.
“Dave Mayo and I have known each other for a long time, since back when he was with T-Mobile and I was with Global Tower Partners. And a lot of his staff are known to us at Vertical Bridge,” Gellman said. “We are growing really fast. We are private, so we can be pretty flexible on some things that help them get going.”
One point of flexibility is amendments. With Vertical Bridge, the carrier can install whatever equipment it likes on a RAD center within certain wind loading criteria, as opposed to paying for each amendment to the tower.
“Bucket loading, to me, makes more sense, because it’s a real estate structure. It’s more of a square-footage play,” Gellman said. “We’re a real estate company. Our job is to deploy capital, buying and building assets, and then renting them to customers who are healthy and are happy being there. So, I don’t mind at all, a structure that allows tenants to operate efficiently in the space. It’s easy for them, and that’s good for me.”
Gellman admitted that Dish has a “gargantuan” task when it comes to building out a nationwide 5G network from scratch. He said that Vertical Bridge’s philosophy of being “fast, flexible and friendly” will help the carrier move quickly.
“We respond very, very quickly and are cognizant of how important timeliness is for them, which is important for any of our customers but especially for Dish,” Gellman said. We must be flexible with what they need so that we can help them get things done, and then the friendly part is, really, to keep an open line of communication so that we can deal with whatever may come along.”
After their company was acquired by Vertical Bridge, Eco-Site’s co-founders Dale Carey, Bob Glosson and Rich Stern joined the tower company’s executive team. Carey serves as executive vice president of strategy and convergence. Glosson is senior vice president of real estate solutions, and Stern is senior vice president of real estate.
“The other thing that’s really beneficial for us is, with the recently completed merger with Eco-Site, we added a lot of talent to our team,” Gellman said. “So we’re in a good position to really bear-hug the Dish opportunity and really apply a lot of resources to it.”
Gellman doesn’t believe the Dish agreement will result in a lot of growth for his company in 2021. “This year they’re going to be identifying and doing a lot of work on leasing sites,” he said. “I don’t think their rent will commence for until next year. So I think it’s going to be a build over time in terms of the impact on our income statement.”
Mid-year 2022 is Dish’s deadline to cover 20 percent of the population. A year later, mid-year 2013, that coverage requirement jumps to 70 percent, but Dish can get an extension if it reaches 50 percent population coverage.