U.S. Cellular’s tower portfolio, which spans 21 states, is now open for business, thanks in part, to its relationship with Pyramid Network Solutions, which serves as the exclusive service provider for all collocations across their portfolio. Through the relationship, which began in fall 2018, Pyramid represents U.S. Cellular Towers, a division of the carrier. In less than year, Pyramid has completed hundreds of collocations on U.S. Cellular owned towers.
“Pyramid’s team of dedicated professionals has been able to unlock a large volume of collocations and really work through some of the more complex collocations that needed extra time to be completed,” Jenine Renaud, director, Pyramid, told eDigest. She will speak on the tower panel at the AGL DC Summit, Sept. 26, in Washington DC.
The fourth largest U.S. tower owner, U.S. Cellular has 4,300 towers, in mostly rural areas. It is one of the few carriers that has not sold off its towers.
“This is an important initiative in their organization. They have supported Pyramid and are highly involved in the program,” Renaud said. “While U.S. Cellular provides the final sign off for collocations, Pyramid has full authority to run the program in a way it believes will maximize collocations.”
Pyramid facilitates the collocation process end-to-end from the handling of the application approval to constructions, modifications and closeouts. The 23-year-old company has 400 employees, including a construction team consisting of in-house and contracted tower climbers.
“While U.S. Cellular is focused on its customers’ network experience, the collocation initiative allows us to give the tenants the experience of working with a tower owner,” Renaud said.
Not every collocation is straightforward, and Pyramid has been able to work through some of the barriers to successfully attach antennas to the structures, such as when a pole extension of 15 feet was needed. Applications handled by Pyramid are closing at rate of 80 percent.
“We do have national standards for separation on the pole, but we are able to work through site-specific nuances, because we have the site level engagement, which really helps the close rate,” Renaud said.
The increased emphasis on rural wireless coverage from the federal government has provided added potential for additional tenants on U.S. Cellular’s strategically placed towers. Carriers will need to leverage existing macro tower sites to maximize their 5G reach.
“U.S. Cellular has recognized that technology is evolving and sites are going to be built that will compete with them, so they are open for business for collocations,” Renaud said. “It is good timing. It is good business. They want to be a part of the next generation of cellular.”
Allowing collocations is also good for U.S. Cellular’s partnerships with the jurisdictions, reducing the number of new towers that have to be built. Interestingly, the collocation process has benefited from U.S. Cellular’s positive relationships with the big four carriers.
“U.S. Cellular appreciates its partnerships with the other carriers,” Renaud said. “AT&T, for one, has a very good relationship with U.S. Cellular to provide great locations, allowing them to avoid starting from scratch. U.S. Cellular understands the timelines that a carrier must meet with their buildouts.”
But the collocation is not only open to carriers. Non-traditional tenants, such as utilities and broadband providers, need towers for backhaul. They make up 25 percent of the collocations Pyramid has closed. For example, Calneva Broadband, a western company that provides internet, digital phone service and television, has a significant interest in the portfolio. Electric utilities are also establishing a presence on the tower portfolio. Whether it is carrier, a broadband provider, municipality or a utility, Renaud insists that customer service is the key to successful collocation.
“Carriers and other collocations have specific requirements and timelines and they need to be communicated to the owner of the tower,” Renaud said. “It is about facilitating their interests in a timely fashion and providing them with all the data they need to keep moving forward, and to get the approval to complete the collocation.”