Today’s government agencies, whether at the federal, state, or local level, are grappling with constrained budgets and limited funding sources. They simply must do more with less.

An agency charged with expanding coverage for a Land Mobile Radio (LMR) network, upgrading a regional or statewide public safety broadband network, or developing a new federal wireless network must deliver a robust and reliable system to support mission-critical communications that serve and protect the public. To deliver value, the agency also must sharpen their focus on how they use limited resources and embrace strategies that reduce uncertainty and mitigate risks.

In considering whether to build a new tower or lease space on an existing one, different approaches offer different levels of budgetary and schedule predictability, regulatory and other risks, and administrative burden.

American Tower has released a new e-book, which provides a framework to help decisionmakers make informed decisions about build and lease options. In this blog, we highlight key considerations explored in chapter two: the issues surrounding what it takes to manage tower construction and operate and maintain towers over the long term.

Tower and Resource Considerations

While costs vary based on a tower’s size, location, and any environmental, historical, or terrain sensitivities in the area, a sizeable allotment of capital is required to build a communications tower. Moreover, the range of potential construction costs, spelled out in the e-book, do not include the cost of land acquisition, ground facilities, or ongoing operations.  

Beyond financial considerations, a build requires critical talent resources, specifically general contractors who have the experience and skills to build a secure and resilient tower in a cost-effective manner. It can be a challenge to secure these dedicated professionals, particularly in more remote areas, increasing the risk of missing target completion dates or funding-related deadlines.

On Time and On Budget

Government officials, like business leaders, strive to maintain control of spending and project delivery over a specific timeframe to meet budgetary, grant, or electoral cycles. That puts a premium on understanding the drivers of success in terms of costs and timelines.

During a new tower build, there are many areas where the success of government officials depends on the actions and timetables of others. As detailed in chapter two of the e-book, these include:

  • Site preparation, where the schedule of the utility company determines whether needed resources are installed timely;
  • Steel manufacturing, where labor and material shortages and supply chain snarls can complicate timelines;
  • Landowner relations, which may become complicated over a prolonged build that delays the landowner’s ability to collect rent; and
  • Unexpected legal fees, which may be necessary to address late-arriving opposition to a build.

Long-Term Tower Operations

The challenges associated with owning and operating tower sites are key reasons major Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) typically choose to collocate, instead of building, and sell towers they have built to tower companies. Once communications sites are in use, for example, the tower and outbuildings must be maintained, secured, and insured over their lifetime.

To facilitate decision-making, chapter two of the e-book presents different tenant scenarios, including a single-tenant scenario and an alternative scenario where the plan is to lease space on the tower to other groups within the organization, such as police and public safety agencies. The chapter also covers Federal Communications Commission (FCC) environmental compliance requirements for those choosing to build new towers or collocate antennas on existing structures.

Understanding the pros and cons of building versus collocation is crucial when seeking ways to responsibly and cost-effectively advance mission-critical voice and data network development. Access the e-book and carefully weigh the risks, costs, and benefits of each approach.   

Sign Up to Access Our New E-book

Keith Fearon

About the Author: Keith Fearon

Manager, Vertical Markets, Government

For the past 10 years, Keith has served government and public safety agencies for American Tower. Keith is dedicated to providing high-touch customer service and securing collocation solutions to meet the needs of his customers.