The book Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke contains 60 color photographs of disguised cell phone towers of the American West. Burke, a photographic artist, captured images of often-whimsical tower disguises during six years of travel. The photographs also are available in 17×22 and 30×44 prints, with individual commissions for larger sizes.
“I live in Silicon Valley,” Burke said, in an interview with AGL Magazine. “I used to work in tech, so I’m used to having a lot of technology around me. I first noticed these disguised trees in the early 2000s. Even in Silicon Valley, they stood out as a little odd. They amused me. Eventually, I started a photo project.”
Writing in her book, Burke said that the more she photographed the towers, the more disconcerted she felt about technology clandestinely modifying the environment.
“Would our children soon accept these towers as normal?” she asked. “I began to explore how this manufactured nature had imposed a contrived aesthetic in our neighborhoods. My photographs expose the towers’ idiosyncratic disguises, highlight the variety of forms and show how ubiquitous they are in our daily lives.” Because the towers are mostly fake trees, Burke called the photo series Fauxliage.
Some of Burke’s search for towers to photograph simply involved a lot of driving around.
“It’s much easier when you’re the passenger, just to look around,” she said. “Many times, I would take scouting shots with my cell phone just to get the GPS and then go back later. I would ask people who live in the area where good ones are. Also, the internet is just a great research tool.”
Burke said she has a degree in geology, and she is interested in the natural world and how people interact with it.
“I’m used to looking at the landscape,” she said. “I’m interested in artifacts that we leave behind. This could be something that technology has left behind, these cell towers.”
Despite the quirky disguises that can be entertaining to look at, Burke wrote in her book, the towers present privacy and environmental concerns. “The often-farcical pole disguises belie the equipment’s covert ability to collect all the personal data transmitted from our cell phones,” the book reads. “Our social media interactions, advertising clicks, location tracking pings, audio recordings by the always-listening Siri and Alexis, are all commoditized, sold and stored by Big Tech and the government. Surveillance capitalism, especially perfecting the algorithms that can predict our behavior to advertisers, is big business in the 21st century.”
Commenting about the cell towers disguised as saguaro cacti, Burke said, “They are my favorite. The ones I photographed are in the Phoenix area. They are very well disguised, I think, because they can be shorter. It helps them to fit in a little better. The designers go to great detail. The little cactus spines are all airbrushed individually. They have re-created the little birds’ nest burrows in there. They are really great.
Burke maintains a website at www.atelierlemay.com, where it is possible to obtain signed copies of the book. Daylight Books publishes Fauxliage by Annette LeMay Burke; visit www. daylightbooks.org/products/fauxliage.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.
Like the other public tower companies, American Tower experienced a solid first quarter. The comm-infra firm’s total revenue increased 8.3 percent to $2,159 million in the first quarter 2021, while net income increased 55.8 percent to $652 million, adjusted EBITDA increased 13.3 percent to $1,440 million and consolidated AFFO increased 23.8 percent to $1,123 million.
“Looking forward, in the U.S., we expect that the gathering 5G momentum will enable us to leverage our extensive site portfolio and mutually beneficial relationships with key tenants to drive sustainable, predictable, recurring long-term growth in cash flows,” Tom Bartlett, American Tower’s CEO, said in a prepared statement.
Internationally, American Tower began 2021 by entering into the Telxius Towers transaction, which Bartlett said he expects to transform the company’s European business.
“Internationally, large multinational carriers are aggressively investing in their wireless networks to keep pace with rapidly growing mobile data usage as smartphone penetration accelerates and network technologies advance,” Bartlett said. “Our global teams followed that by delivering a strong quarter, highlighted by elevated demand for our sites, the construction of nearly 2,000 new towers and highly attractive growth in consolidated AFFO per Share.”
Spencer Kurn, analyst for New Street Research, wrote that American Tower’s results, along with Crown Castle International and SBA Communications, are confirmation that “activity levels are rising sharply as carriers accelerate 5G deployments, which bodes well for growth later this year and into 2022.”
In a U.S. Communications Infrastructure Research note, Nick Del Deo, senior analyst, MoffettNathanson, noted that, like the other public tower companies, American Tower benefits from T-Mobile’s 2.5 GHz buildout, the C-band deployments and Dish Network‘s nationwide 5G build. However, he wrote about some wrinkles will set American Tower apart.
“First, American Tower is set to get hit with Sprint-related churn much earlier than its peers, with the first slug coming in Q4 of this year,” Del Deo wrote. “We try to focus on churn over the cycle in our work, but the market also cares about annual growth rates. Second, American Tower’s greater embrace of [master lease agreements] MLAs is likely to mute the benefits of the coming leasing upswing (and mute the deceleration on the other side), as more of its revenue is already locked in.
“And third, American Tower seems to be taking the most deliberate steps to try offsetting the pain of the Sprint churn to minimize its impact,” he added. “These include: ramping up new tower construction overseas; driving cost efficiencies within its business; and stepping up accretive M&A activity, most notably InSite Wireless Group and Telxius.”
Just before Christmas, American Tower received his biggest present of 2020, closing on its acquisition of InSite Wireless Group for the sum of $3.5 billion. The purchase was funded by a combination of cash on hand and revolver borrowings.
Tom Bartlett, American Tower’s CEO, said in a prepared statement, that the transaction will be immediately accretive, and he expects to quickly begin driving new leasing activity on the assets.
“As 5G densification initiatives in the United States accelerate and network deployments in international markets continue, we believe we are well positioned to generate attractive, sustainable long-term growth, including on these new sites, while playing a key role in enhancing mobile broadband connectivity,” he said.
American Tower expects the assets acquired from InSite to generate $150 million in property revenue and approximately $115 million in gross margin in 2021.
Tom Bartlett, American Tower CEO, told the Q3 earnings call last week how American Tower aims to use its neutral-host real estate portfolio to help customers deal with the convergence of wireless and wireline networks, which will lead to numerous additional services that call for mobile data centers.
“We believe that this convergence along with increasing digitalization, network virtualization and cloud-native software-defined services will lead to increasing demand for distributed, interconnected global edge compute processing,” Bartlett said.
Infrastructure at the edge should remain a critical component of the network architecture as it evolves, according to Bartlett, which is where American Tower’s real estate assets reside.
“We are focused on developing communications infrastructure business models that augment the value of our existing assets, expand our revenue base beyond traditional tenants, and enhance our leadership role in the wireless ecosystem,” Bartlett said. “At the highest level, our goal is to selectively extend our digital infrastructure core capabilities to further encapsulate neutral hosted wireless connectivity, transport, and compute functions as part of our comprehensive platform.”
American Tower plans to offer tenants an integrated suite of complementary solutions to fit within the increasingly complex network designs.
American Tower will focus its investments on business models with contracted long-term revenue commitments from Tier 1 customers; multi-tenancy and multi-service offerings with low ongoing maintenance capex; operating leverage characteristics similar to towers; and synergies and adjacencies to existing American Tower assets and skillsets, Bartlett said.
In the United States, as 5G deployments accelerate, American Tower expects an increasing number of lower latency applications and more cloud-based customer demand for application-level and network compute functions at the edge.
“There are two distinct solutions within this emerging ecosystem: distributed compute and mobile edge compute,” Barlett said. “We believe that these two offerings will develop on different timelines and will allow us to provide differentiated valued propositions for our customers.”
On the distributed computing side, enterprise workloads continue to move to the public cloud. In the near term, on- or off-premise private cloud computing is also being used as a hybrid solution. American Tower has begun deploying micro data center facilities at select tower sites and has seen early indications of solid demand in collaboration with partners like Flexential, a nationwide data center platform.
“Small and medium-sized businesses are often willing to move legacy workloads to more responsive, proximate, cost-effective data centers, and we believe that many data centers at some of our macro towers can represent optimal locations for these installations,” Bartlett said.
In the long term, however, 5G mobile edge compute solutions at the tower to represent a much larger opportunity to fulfill the need for low latency, according to Bartlett.
“The foundational concept of our mobile edge strategy is the expectation that localized neutral host, multi-operator, multi-cloud micro data centers can be the most cost- and technology-efficient means to which latency can be reduced,” he said. “These facilities can be optimally located at select macro tower sites that already have power, fiber and multiple wireless tenants, rather than each cloud provider and carrier forging ahead with their own connectivity arrangements.”
Colo Atl, an American Tower company and provider of carrier-neutral colocation, data center and interconnection solutions, is in the early stages of small-scale deployments at the tower sites.
“At this point, we think a scaled solution is still at least a few years away, but there is tangible progress being made, and we are excited about the possibilities,” Bartlett said. “Underlying this excitement of the potential future 5G related use cases that we expect to drive rapid uptake of mobile edge compute functions.