Marc Ganzi, future CEO of Colony and the current CEO of Digital Colony, received the Telecom, Media and Technology Leadership Award and the TMT M&A Awards 2019 recently in London.
“I am humbled to have been selected by my peers for this recognition,” Ganzi said in a prepared release. “The award is testimony to my partners and team at Digital Colony who continue to execute our commitment and vision to serving our customers globally with mission critical digital infrastructure.”
Ganzi has a long career as a pioneer and leading entrepreneur in digital real estate and infrastructure, and 2019 has been a year of exceptional achievements. He led the closing of the first and largest discretionary investment fund dedicated to digital infrastructure – Digital Colony Partners, the partnership between Colony Capital and Digital Bridge – at more than $4 billion of committed capital. A major acquisition was announced in May 2019, with Ganzi spearheading the Digital Colony and EQT (pending) $14 billion acquisition of Zayo Group Holdings.
In 2019, Colony CEO and Founder Thomas J. Barrack, Jr. and Ganzi announced a strategic combination of their companies and the creation of a dynamic partnership. Colony Capital acquired Digital Bridge, with Ganzi slated to succeed Barrack as Colony CEO. Ganzi’s investments in digital infrastructure have consistently leveraged the real estate component critical to infrastructure investing, which aligns with Colony’s global scale, operating platform and capital markets access. The intersection of real estate and digital trends, and the historic, transformative global deployment of 5G network infrastructure are the themes that Ganzi and the new combined company are aggressively pursuing with expanded financial resources and investment talent.
Marc Ganzi’s vision of diversification took another big step yesterday as his global investment firm Digital Colony purchased fiber optic network provider Zayo Group, with the help of EQT Infrastructure IV fund, in a transaction valued at $14.3 billion. Zayo will transition from a public company to a private company but remain headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. The deal is subject to regulatory and shareholder approval.
Jennifer Fritzsche, senior analyst, Wells Fargo Securities, said. “Ultimately, we believe ZAYO will be a valuable asset within the acquirers’ portfolios and create natural synergies with their other investments. Digital Colony, through its partner Digital Bridge, touches many of the converging parts of the communications infrastructure ecosystem.”
Digital Colony is a combination of Digital Bridge Holdings, which is headed by Ganzi, and Colony Capital, a real estate investment management firm. Digital Bridge is a holding company that is quite diversified, owning Vertical Bridge, Mexico Tower Partners, ExteNet Systems, Databank, Vantage Data Centers and Andean Tower Partners.
As a global investment firm, Digital Colony focuses on next generation mobile and internet infrastructure – towers, data centers, small cells, and fiber.
Ganzi said, “Zayo has a world-class digital infrastructure portfolio, including a highly-dense fiber network in some of the world’s most important metro markets. We believe the company has a unique opportunity to meet the growing demand for data associated with the connectivity and backhaul requirements of a range of customers.”
Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan are serving as financial advisors to Zayo Group in connection with the transaction and Skadden Arps is serving as legal counsel. Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank are acting as financial advisors to Digital Colony and EQT Infrastructure, and Simpson Thacher is serving as legal advisor.
Spencer Kern, analyst, New Street Research, said the transaction was bad news for Crown Castle International. First, the pricing of transaction has negative implications because the implied multiple on Zayo’s fiber is 7x lower than the multiple placed on CCI’s fiber by the market.
“We don’t see any reasons why CCI’s fiber should trade at such a high premium to Zayo’s; at the multiple implied by the Zayo transaction, we see 8 percent downside to CCI’s stock price,” Kern wrote. “Second, the new ownership of Zayo could drive greater competition in small cells, putting pressure on CCI’s small cells win-rate, pricing, or both.”
A Busy Year for Digital Colony
Since its inception, Digital Colony has aggressively moved forward on Ganzi’s vision of diversification, with a particular emphasis on the United Kingdom. Last August, Digital Colony entered the U.K. indoor DAS and small cell market with an investment in Stratto, which offers an Infrastructure-as-a-Service business model.
On April 29 of 2019, the global investment firm announced further growth of its U.K. platform through the acquisition of iWireless Solutions, a small cell provider that serves large, high profile venues in the U.K. (London Olympic Stadium, Twickenham Stadium).
Last November, Digital Colony purchased Opencell, which provides multi-operator indoor coverage and currently has more than 2,000 cells across 100 networks that are used by all four U.K. mobile network operators. Opencell was then merged with Stratto.
“Our goal from day one has been to build the leading digital infrastructure platform that delivers exceptional indoor and outdoor network solutions to the mobile network operators in the U.K.; combining Opencell’s capabilities and active networks with the Stratto platform helps us accelerate those goals,” said Ganzi, in a November 2018 press release. “We look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationships with our customers as well as positioning Digital Colony’s U.K. digital infrastructure platform as the recognized leader in the small cell sector.”
Outside the United Kingdom, Digital Colony Buys Fiber, Towers
Elsewhere in the world, Digital Colony has reached out and planted it flag. Last week, Digital Colony closed on the acquisition of Toronto-based, Cogeco Peer 1, a provider of colocation, network connectivity and managed services company. Cogeco Peer 1’s fiber business, which currently encompass more than 2,050 route miles of owned, dense metro fiber in Canada’s two largest urban markets, plans to become the country’s first neutral-host provider of small cell and 5G infrastructure and enterprise and wholesale fiber connectivity.
At the end of just Digital Colony completed its acquisition of Helsinki, Finland-based Digita Oy, which owns and operates the nationwide digital terrestrial television and radio broadcasting tower infrastructure network in Finland and is the largest independent owner of telecom towers in the country.
Long‑term institutional investor Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) has acquired a 30-percent stake in Vertical Bridge Holdings, which will use investment to continue to expand its portfolio of broadband and broadcast towers, small cells, real estate and other wireless infrastructure assets ahead of 5G deployment.
Since its inception in 2014, Vertical Bridge has completed more than 250 acquisitions and grown its portfolio to over 266,000 sites, including more than 16,000 owned and master-leased towers, as well as the nation’s largest and tallest private portfolio of broadcast towers.
“With this acquisition, we expand our exposure to telecommunications infrastructure by partnering with a first‑class operator that is strategically positioned in the market and brings a wealth of knowledge of the industry,” said Emmanuel Jaclot, Executive Vice‑President, Infrastructure at CDPQ. “We are delighted to work alongside the Vertical Bridge team and support the company’s next stages of development and long-term growth in an attractive wireless infrastructure sector.”
CDPQ joins a diverse group of long-term investors who have supported Vertical Bridge since its founding. The group includes Digital Bridge, The Jordan Company, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, The Edgewater Funds, CalSTRS and Dock Square Capital LLC. The Vertical Bridge executive team also holds a significant stake in the business.
“Two key goals since the day we were founded have been to be a leader in wireless communications infrastructure and to have longevity as a private company. The commitment from CDPQ – as well our current investors’ ongoing support – will allow us to continue to meet these objectives,” said Alex Gellman, CEO and Co-Founder of Vertical Bridge. “We are thrilled to add CDPQ to our investor group and look forward to working with them as we offer an even broader range of innovative infrastructure solutions to customers in the dynamic U.S. wireless and broadcast markets.”
Digital Bridge Holdings was formed in 2013 through a partnership between Ben Jenkins of Dering Capital (and formerly of The Blackstone Group) and Marc Ganzi (former founder and CEO of Global Tower Partners). Digital Bridge owns interest in a broad range of communications infrastructure companies, including: Mexico Tower Partners, Vertical Bridge, ExteNet, Andean Tower Partners, Databank and Vantage Data Centers.
“We are pleased to welcome CDPQ to the company’s group of investors,” said Marc Ganzi, executive chairman of Vertical Bridge and co-founder and CEO of Digital Bridge. “As the world prepares for the next generation of mobile technology, and coverage and capacity demands rise, their support and guidance will be a vital asset to the Board and to the management team as we collaborate to achieve our goals and support carriers by providing best-in-class digital infrastructure solutions.”
The delivery of infrastructure today is a more complex effort than it was in the 1990s or the early part of the 2000s, according to Marc Ganzi, CEO of Digital Bridge. Compared with today’s business focus, wireless infrastructure companies used to think more about where wireless carriers wanted tower sites and how the tower companies could efficiently deploy their balance sheets to help carriers extend their networks, he said. Digital Bridge develops, owns and manages tower and rooftop antenna sites, data centers, fiber-optic cable routes and backhaul, cloud storage, small cells, distributed antenna system (DAS) networks, and Wi-Fi wireless local area networks.
In the past, Ganzi said, separate companies handled the wireless infrastructure segments of towers, DAS and fiber. For the future, Ganzi expects 5G wireless communications infrastructure requirements to transform the wireless carriers and how they spend capital.
— Marc Ganzi, CEO of Digital Bridge
Photo by Don Bishop
Preparing for 5G
“We are spending a lot of time thinking about how networks are converging, how we can be helpful and, most importantly, preparing a fairly substantial spend to make 5G work,” Ganzi said. “The industrialization of the network is really important to understand. You have to think about the network in multiple dimensions.”
In Ganzi’s view, the first dimension involves multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) communications, which at least uses multiple transmitting and receiving antennas for a given base station, and sometimes multiple transmitters and receivers that each have multiple antennas to transmit and receive more than one data signal simultaneously over the same radio channel. The effect minimizes errors and optimizes data speed.
“With MIMO, you immediately change the dynamic of how infrastructure is built because now you’re relying on small cells, Wi-Fi, macro sites, backhaul and edge data centers, and then ultimately, the backside of a cloud-based radio access network (C-RAN) with base station hotels or carrier hotels,” Ganzi said.
“A second dimension addresses 5G’s potential not only for connecting 7 billion human beings on this planet, but also it is about connecting 7 trillion devices,” Ganzi said. “No longer are we building networks for people-to-people connections. We’re talking about machine-to-machine connections. Those machine-to-machine connections are going exponentially far faster than anyone can comprehend. As we think about where we’re going to be in 2030, with 7 trillion devices connected via wireless networks, that’s an exciting place to be.”
Hierarchy of Objectives
Ganzi said customers have a hierarchy of objectives, including quick, capital-efficient deployment that solves legacy lease issues while bringing down the total cost of bandwidth delivery over time. He said wireless infrastructure providers have profited greatly as deployment partners with carriers, but a fundamental shift to lighter, smaller infrastructure is mostly likely to be more rent-efficient. Trying to help customers optimize their operating expense is important, Ganzi said, along with understanding how to deliver many solutions quickly.
“Regarding the customers of the future, I wonder how far Charlie Ergen will go with the Dish Network internet-of-things (IoT) network,” Ganzi said. This year, Ergen, the company chairman, announced Dish Network’s plans to deploy a nationwide, narrowband IoT wireless network. “How do cable TV companies get into the business of wireless communications?” he asked. “Do the cable companies eventually own a network?”
If the No. 3 and No. 4 national wireless carriers, T-Mobile US and Sprint, merge as they have said they intend to do, Ganzi said the cable TV companies may end up entering the business as a fourth national wireless communications carrier. “We have to think a lot about what they will need for infrastructure,” he said.
Another potential new mobile network operator Ganzi identified as a future customer for wireless infrastructure could come from companies that Wall Street sometimes refers to in a group as FANG, using the first letters of their names: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google.
“Probably the FANGs will not build their own wireless communications networks unless there are some changes made about net neutrality,” Ganzi said. “But chances are, maybe one of them will, or they build pieces of the network, or they joint venture with the cable TV companies to build a joint network. I am optimistic about traditional content providers and companies that deliver goods and services. It benefits them to have network elements, if they can control and own them.”
Referring once to the industrialization of the wireless network as the IoT, Ganzi said it would be logical that for Amazon to deliver a flawless experience, especially with drone delivery, Amazon will need some form of a wireless network with low latency and with computational functions and applications placed at the network edge.
“You will see carrier hotels, small-cell base station hotels or C-RAN hubs, whatever you want to call them, as aggregation points where content and wireless come together to reduce latency as low as 1 millisecond,” Ganzi said. “To achieve that, we have to be 1,000 percent faster than we are today. Some of these challenges are confounding from an engineering perspective, and I believe it means we will see new wireless carrier entrants.”
In Ganzi’s view, if T-Mobile US and Sprint merge, it will be positive for the wireless infrastructure industry. He said the best result would be the emergence of a fourth mobile network operator. But whether or not the companies merge, much work will need to be done to densify mobile networks.
“Rationalizations of networks take about seven years, depending on how long the duration of the existing macro sites is with the company that’s acquiring the other company,” Ganzi said. “Between the third and sixth years after a merger, you see a reinvestment in the network. We’ve seen that happen time and time again. I am not concerned about the short-term implications of the merger. I am more interested in its by-product, and whether it encourages cable TV companies to invest, Dish Network to invest or the FANGs to invest. Whatever happens, the number of devices that will need to be connected over the next decade is a staggering figure. To accomplish that is going to require a lot more bandwidth and a lot more infrastructure. I challenge everyone to not think so much of being in the tower business, but to think of being in the bandwidth delivery business.”
Ganzi emphasized the importance of focusing on work flow to reduce cycle time. He said the need to complete projects more quickly applies to all businesses. For antenna site projects, he said bringing the customer experience down from a 180-day experience to a 90-day experience represents a remarkable achievement because it pulls sites into a quarter.
“It starts with people,” Ganzi said. “It’s harder and harder today to find good people to run these businesses just because of the sheer volume of activity and not really having a great safety net for training. How do we continue to train the next generation engineers? How do we train the next professionals in wireless infrastructure to really come on board and be effective on Day One? If you don’t have the right people, you can’t create alpha in investing. Owning infrastructure assets is great. You can have the best leases; you can have the best cash flows. But people create alpha, not the assets.” In business terminology, alpha is the excess return on investment relative to a benchmark return.
Although the wireless infrastructure business continuously faces a challenge from regulations, Ganzi said, the challenge brings opportunity. If it becomes easy to perform a site make-ready, to build a tower or to pull a building permit, wireless infrastructure specialists will become less useful to wireless carriers. He said wireless infrastructure specialists have the skills to perform the hard work and provide a strategic value-add to wireless carriers. A value-add becomes quantified as the difference between the revenue received for a product or service and the cost required to produce it.
Ganzi said the Wireless Industry Association, under its previous name PCIA, did a good job with regulation in bringing the wireless infrastructure industry and municipal governments together to offer the collocation of wireless equipment on existing sites as a matter of right. “How the industry responds and how the FCC responds will largely dictate how easy it will be or how difficult it will be to deploy next-generation networks,” he said.
Marc Ganzi spoke at the Connectivity Expo conducted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association in Charlotte, North Carolina, in May.The next Connectivity Expo is set for May 20–23, 2019, in Orlando, Florida.
5G will be a transformative moment for the wireless industry as operators provide the new, expansive services made possible by multi-gigabit speeds and minimal latency, Marc Ganzi, Digital Bridge CEO, told an audience at last week’s Wireless West Conference, held in Los Angeles. The wireless infrastructure industry will have to transform, too, through technological convergence to provide an estimated 1.2 million small cells, miles of fiber optics and computing pushed to the edge of the networks.
Digital Bridge itself is a prime example of convergence, with ownership of companies across multiple platforms, including macrotowers, small cells, wholesale data center solutions, enterprise-class data centers, neutral-host distributed network systems and fiber optics.
Ganzi challenged the audience members to think bigger and expand beyond towers to serve the operators’ needs. “How do you stay relevant?” he said. “We should be in the business of delivering networks. We are not in silos anymore. Convergence is now. It is not something ethereal or happening in the distant future.”
The 5G buildout will be a complicated build that will take place over the span of seven to eight years, Ganzi forecasted. “It will involve a lot of the pieces of the ecosystem – fiber optics, data centers and small cells — that the wireless industry, the tower industry in particular, hasn’t always been a part. These are complex things that have to all fit within an ecosystem that works harmoniously together,” he said.
Fiber optics will be a critical component of 5G because it is the “connective tissue” of the network, whether it linking a Wi-Fi node, a small cell, an indoor DAS system, an outdoor macrosite or mini-macro. “We are beginning to see companies like Zayo and Crown Castle International where the lines are blurring. They are building both the small cells and the fiber to backhaul them,” Ganzi said.
On the backend, software will define 5G networks and will serve as the catalyst that helps the carriers make money. “SDN allows the operator to deliver the most efficient user experience across the network,” Ganzi said. “That’s really, really hard. It will demand a lot of engineering.”
Also at the backend of the network, and just as important, are the data centers. Ganzi sees a lot of opportunity there. Digital Bridge has been investing a good deal of capital in them, finding the business model to be similar to the tower industry. “The data center industry is where towers were 10 years ago when 80 percent of the towers were owned by the carriers, very fragmented,” Ganzi said. “Currently, 70 percent of data centers are owned by enterprises.”
The wireless infrastructure industry must seek to understand how operators’ needs are changing with the advent of 5G and learn how to meet them. “If you want to be a critical partner, you have to change how you think about MLAs, leases, new sites,” he said. “Speed and accuracy are paramount. Owning and building the different elements of the network is critical if you expect your phone to ring.”
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: email@example.com.