Last month I talked about The Internet of Things (IoT) because it continues to be one of the hottest terms in the technology industry today. I talked about the positive uses for the technology in Indian Country like monitoring and managing energy, creating flexibility in hospitality and gaming, and powerful marketing capabilities. I would be remiss if I didn’t address some of the other opportunities that will be available and some issues that may arise with the demand for additional cellular towers to accommodate wireless expansion to support 5G and IoT services.
With AT&T’s FirstNet activity, T-Mobile’s 600MHz build, Sprint’s tri-band overlays and Verizon’s steady cell deployment, there are huge needs for tower expansion on tribal lands. I encourage you to fine-tune your process for planning and sacred land preservation as the number of inquiries for a land lease for towers will increase exponentially in the next 5 years. My recommendation would be to get ahead of the regulatory game and make it easy for carriers to use native lands to establish new towers and therefore the state of the art systems that will drive economic growth. Regional groups like the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians (ATNI) could be an aggregation point for the tribes in a specific area. This will maximize profit by negotiating fewer agreements for more money.
Although unpopular in some cases, I think this quote from the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rings true with the upcoming demands for wireless expansion. “You can stick with the regulatory status quo, or you can have 5G,” Pai said. “You cannot have both.”
Many tribal partners ask me if they should allow the carrier, such as T-Mobile or a tower company, like Crown Castle, lease the land or if they should build a tower to lease to several companies. I would recommend the later if you have the resources to make the capital investment up front and it is a strategic site that is attractive to multiple carriers.
I have been hearing that cellular companies are running into a shortage of tower companies to build and service the number of towers they have projected in the next five years, which is 500,000 up from 350,000 today, which have accumulated over the last 30 years. That increase in such a short period of time shows how much activity will be happening in just a few years. Lastly, another good opportunity is for tribes to get into the tower construction and maintenance business. Many tribes already have construction companies that could be transitioned to tower construction with multiple tower installation teams creating job opportunities. Overall, I recommend planning NOW to take advantage of the critical need for public safety and IoT applications that wireless infrastructure will play a huge role in.
This editorial was written for and published in the Tribal Business Journal, May 2018 issue.