Tower companies and wireless infrastructure providers have become more important than ever to mobile network operators (MNOs) in the face of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dagan Kasavana, founder and CEO of Phoenix Tower International (PTI). He said that during the past year, his company has worked with them hand-in-hand to help them with operating results, wireless communications coverage needs and alternatives to capital investments.
“We strengthened our partnerships quite a bit with some of our key customers,” Kasavana said. “My belief is that they will never forget how the tower companies responded in times of need. That will lead to a lot of goodwill in the future for the entire industry.”
Founded in 2013, PTI seeks to own and operate wireless infrastructure sites in stable markets throughout the world that are experiencing a growing use of wireless communications. It owns properties in Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States and Europe.
In Kasavana’s view, the tower industry has seen the importance of wireless connectivity for communication on cellphones and for education, telemedicine and commerce across the world. He said one reason there is still lifeblood in the economy despite everyone working from home is wireless connectivity. “We’re incredibly humbled to be in an industry that is in such demand, but also that comes with significant responsibility that we don’t take lightly here at PTI and as an industry,” he said.
Carbon Neutrality, Charitable Works
The PTI executive said he was happy to see some of the other players in the industry focus on being carbon-neutral and decreasing their carbon footprint, because that is also something PTI wants to achieve. He said PTI hopes to be on a carbon-neutral basis in 2021.
Meanwhile, PTI wants to grow its charitable works across the world, “because in addition to providing great connectivity, we want to make sure we’re giving back,” he said. “The growth as we emerge from COVID 19 will be uneven, and certain markets will do better than others, and certain people will do better than others. We want to make sure we’re continuing to give back. That’s incredibly important.”
Rising Network Demand
The good news for this year, Kasavana said, is that there is significant demand for the wireless network. He said PTI has seen it in the fixed line networks and on the tower side. He said he expects that as people start to travel more and vacation more, business in hotel DAS, enterprise distributed antenna solutions and tower locations in populous tourist hubs will re-emerge. He said traffic to residential suburban sites would continue to be strong.
“The example I give is that everybody’s working on teams on Zoom, now,” he said. “We will continue to work on teams in Zoom, but people may be connecting from their phones a lot more than they ever have, because they’re on the road a lot more and they’re traveling. That will lead to a significant data on the tower sites themselves and data traffic that should lead to some meaningful additions of equipment on the tower sites and lease-up.”
With PTI doing business in 15 countries and given the COVID 19 situation, Kasavana said, it is more important than ever to roll out 5G wireless communications to be ahead of radio-frequency (RF) spectrum auctions and site deployments to get towers built quicker. He said it is a good sign to have to the government supporting the growth that tower companies and their customer are trying to implement. “A combination of those factors will be great for the industry,” he said.
Progress with 5G
Among the countries where PTI does business, the United States is the farthest along with 5G, Kasavana said, with Europe right behind, along with some of the larger markets in Latin America. In general, he said, the Caribbean and some of the Central American markets are behind. In many cases, they have not had 5G spectrum auctions. Although Kasavana sees opportunity in these markets as a wireless infrastructure provider, he said those governments need to accelerate the build-outs as they perceive the demand for connectivity not only in good times, but also in bad times.
As examples, Kasavana cited educating children at home and conducting business at home. “It was really challenging to have your children educated, across the world, if you don’t have good connectivity in your house — also, commerce for businesses that are doing business from home,” he said. “Governments realize we need to make sure our entire population has connectivity. In the United States, you hear it from the Biden administration. You heard it from the Trump administration. Ensuring that we have rural connectivity is so important for us to compete in the future. You see that across the world.”
Areas of focus for PTI’s business this year in all of its markets include rural carriers and wireless internet service providers (WISPs), and Kasavana said the company is doing much more business with some smaller regional players and internet-of-things (IoT) players. He said he expects the more tourism-centric markets will be slower to rebound, with the macroeconomic picture more challenging in some markets than in others.
“The sovereign situation in some of these markets already was difficult and challenging going into COVID,” Kasavana said. “COVID has hit some of these markets to the extent that that the sovereign situation probably worsened. In some of our markets, it will take two or three years for them to recover — to return to the same capex that we saw two or three years ago.”
For the U.S. market, Kasavana sees help arriving in the form of the C-Band spectrum auction, because American wireless carriers will make massive investments in the spectrum, followed by massive network build-up needs. “In general, you’re always looking to pair a spectrum auction, followed by build outs, which then is followed by the next spectrum auction,” he said. “It’s good to see both, and we’re seeing both right now in the United States.”
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine. This article was derived from an AGL Connection interview with Dagan Kasavana conducted by Martha DeGrasse, AGL contributor.