American Tower operates 178.8k towers, supporting the dominant 5G standard, in five distinct geographical regions. The company operates towers in the United States (40.6k), India (73.6k), Latin America (40.9k), Africa (18.8k) Europe (4.8k).

5G deployments will take a significant amount of time. Past wireless technologies, including 2G, 3G and 4G have lasted at least 15 to 20 years from inception to sunset.

Using the United States’ deployment history as an example:

  • 2G: had a 24-year lifecycle lasting from 1996 to 2020
  • 3G: is expected to have a 20-year lifecycle from 2002 to 2022
  • 4G: is expected to have an 18 to 20-year lifecycle from 2010 to 2028/2030

Given the scope and intricacies involved with 5G, the technology will be relevant, for a similar duration as 2G, 3G and 4G technology. Thus, 5G will have a 15 to 20-year lifecycle from 2018 to 2033/2038.

5G Rapidly Becoming the Dominant Standard

In the near term, 4G/LTE will continue to serve the vast majority of mobile usage across the United States. Currently, industry estimates point to 4G/LTE still representing more than 50% of the embedded device market share in the United States through 2025.

Consequently, investments by carriers into augmenting their existing 4G/LTE networks are expected to continue into the 2020s. In turn, incremental 5G-related spending will progressively be added to the mix.

Therefore, two to three different technologies can run on a tower site at the same time. Currently, American Tower has 3G networks, 4G networks and 5G networks, all running on its United States infrastructure simultaneously.

5G Lifecycle Will Last at Least a Decade as the Dominant Standard Because

  • Critical mid-band spectrum for 5G deployments will not be available until, at least, late 2020
  • Carriers are taking a measured and success-based approach to 5G infrastructure investments. This is commensurate with the business cases around new 5G use cases
  • New 5G uses cases, such as autonomous vehicles, depend on input and buy-in from other industries. As a result, this could prolong the technical standards setting process and ecosystem development

Currently, 5G mobile networks are available on a limited basis in 2020, as 4G is the dominant standard. However, 5G market share is expected to grow significantly, to be the dominant standard, and represent over 50% of devices by 2025. American Tower’s digital infrastructure assets will play a significant role in allowing 5G to become the dominant standard in the coming years.

Adam Simmons covers Towers for Dgtl Infra, including American Tower (NYSE: AMT), Crown Castle (NYSE: CCI), SBA Communications (NASDAQ: SBAC), Cellnex Telecom (BME: CLNX), Vantage Towers (ETR: VTWR), IHS Holding (NYSE: IHS), and many more. Within Towers, Adam focuses on the sub-sectors of ground-based cell towers, rooftop sites, broadcast / radio towers, and 5G. Adam has over 7 years of experience in research and writing for Towers.


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