This is the second article in a two-part series. Article one is titled “A Look  Over the Last Eight Years.”

In the accompanying blog, A Look Back Over the Last Eight Years, I write about the cultural changes that have occurred from 2009-2017, the timeframe when Barack Obama was President of the United States. Of course, I am commenting on the revolutionary changes that resulted from the mainstream acceptance of the smartphone – not politics. The inspiration for that blog was the number of smartphones being used to take photos of Obama as he greeted attendees at his farewell speech in Chicago during his last week in office. As I watched this play out on TV, I pondered how “that would not have even been possible eight years prior because not enough people owned a smartphone when George W. Bush left office.”

In this accompanying blog, I pause to look ahead to the cultural changes we anticipate as the smartphone continues to impact our daily lives. Similar to when I watched the Obama farewell address, I watched Donald Trump take the oath of office and noticed someone holding a phone over Trump’s left shoulder (note the screenshot above). This individual shot a personal video of the historic moment when the Constitutional Republic of the United States of American transfers power.

If we look forward over the next four years or so, I am sure we will be amazed at the continued technological advancements over the duration of President Donald Trump’s administration. We will see significant network evolutions including 5G wireless and the Internet of Things enabling smart cities, autonomous operations, real-time health monitoring and a plethora of applications to advance society and make our lives easier.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, we can expect big advancements in software that brings voice recognition into the mainstream, turning our phone into a hub that controls our entire home and blows our mind with Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities.

This WSJ article also points out that we may see a plateau in the development of smartphones themselves. In other words, we do not expect a lot of innovation in the hardware unless there are huge leaps in the use of pliable glass that may allow us to fold a tablet and slip it in our pocket.

Bendable glass! What’s next? Self-lacing shoes? Oh wait, those already exist. Well maybe someone will develop an app that links my phone to my self-lacing shoes for some reason that I can’t yet imagine but will be using daily in the next 4-8 years.

All these mobile apps only work if there is an underlying network with enough capacity to enable them. The insatiable appetite that consumes network bandwidth will not end.   So, In the meantime, Md7 will keep working to get sites On-Air Faster to enable this exciting future!


This is the first article in a two part series. Article two is titled “A Look Forward Over the Next Four Years.”

As I watched President Barack Obama’s Farewell speech delivered on January 10, from McCormick Place, the large, sprawling convention center near downtown Chicago I couldn’t help but reflect on all the change that has occurred over the last eight years.

After President Obama finished his speech, he walked along a rope and greeted hundreds of supporters, many of which worked on his campaign teams or on his staff in the White House. Our culture has shifted over the last eight years because of his leadership and the policies he implemented. However, as I watched him greeting the crowd with hundreds of camera phones flashing in his face, I realized that our culture has also significantly changed due to the impact of the smartphone and all the subsequent apps and technology. Mobile Technology is rapidly changing our daily lives impacting society, politics, interactions, experiences and opportunities for those across the globe.

As the President strolled the rope line shaking hands, hundreds of people were using their phones to snap up-close photos. Others were turning their backs to him to snap a selfie with him in the background. I am sure there were some who were even broadcasting this moment on Facebook Live.

Think about it. We now have the ability to broadcast worldwide, in real-time, our own personal videos of anything we want by simply clicking on an icon and lifting up our phones.   This is all possible because of the advancements during a mobile revolution that took place more or less over the last eight years.

While the iPhone was actually released in June, 2007 while George W. Bush was in office, it didn’t become mainstream until a year or two later when Barak Obama was in the White House. Since that time web pages like Facebook and Twitter evolved into mobile apps, we began watching movies on the go, and countless new apps were created like Instagram, Periscope, Uber and my personal favorite – UberEats.

All this required massive upgrades and expansion of the wireless infrastructure. Including the introduction of LTE technology and significant and continued capacity additions; fiber deployments and backhaul upgrades; DAS; in-building deployments; small cells; Wi-Fi integration and hotspot technology; cloud-RAN and continued technology advancements to provide better coverage, capacity and wireless network performance with existing as well as new spectrum.

I can’t help but also reflect on the last eight years at Md7. During the 2008-09 timeframe when Obama was elected and came into office, Md7 was still primarily working as a lease optimization company following the consolidation of wireless operators a few years earlier. In 2010 and 2011 we began to capitalize on our experience renegotiating thousands of overlapping leases in response to the industry consolidation expanding to negotiate thousands of lease modification amendments as part of the LTE rollout. We developed new processes to more efficiently execute site development including scaling to deliver projects encompassing thousands of amendments to leases with private landlords, and tens-of-thousands of applications for site upgrades and expansion on sites owned by the major tower companies. Md7 also developed high volume zoning/permitting and land use services to more effectively manage cycle times. Advancements in our LiveTrack™ software took our project management capabilities to an entirely new level. And in 2016, we began working to scale architecture and engineering services as well.

All of this was done in anticipation of the need develop sites for an industry where the growth curve is flattening. Now, Md7’s operating model develops new and existing sites (both macro, micro and small cell) more quickly and at lower costs than we even thought was possibly a few years ago.

As I look back, there is no question, the smartphone was the catalyst for these changes over the last eight years or so. But I have to acknowledge that the single biggest change at Md7 on a day-to-day basis is that we now operate in a much more expense focused and competitive environment. I am glad we were ready for it.



By Tom Leddo and Lynn Whitcher


Md7 currently operates in fourteen different countries and eleven different languages. While there are obviously a lot of cultural differences between each of these markets, Md7 has found that each of these countries and regions within are facing a lot of the same challenges as each continues to upgrade and maintain their networks. And, believe it or not, we have also found that many of the solutions to these common infrastructure challenges are similar as well.

In short, Md7 acknowledges that each country and/or market within a given country is unique, but we have found through our efforts to acquire, modify, expand, extend, optimize and even decommission, tens-of-thousands of sites around in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Egypt that the challenges and solutions are more similar than one would assume.

Based on our experience over the last thirteen years, we find that all of the wireless operators we serve are facing the following two challenges.

  1. Managing capital expenditures (CapEx) on continuous and more frequent network upgrades in response to the ever-evolving consumer demand driven by the advent of smartphones, tablets and now even the Internet of Things (IoT).
  2. Managing operational expenditures (OpEx) in response to handset penetration rates in excess of 100%.

Or said another way, operators worldwide have to continuously increase the efficiency and bandwidth of their spectrum and networks while simultaneously operating on tighter budgets.

Independent of country or culture, it is simple economics. In all of the markets in which Md7 operates, the operator’s growth curve has flattened as it crosses 100% penetration, while the customers are demanding more bandwidth at lower prices, on cooler devices.


It’s clear that more cell sites are needed, but given the economic constraints of the industry, the traditional deployment model must be disrupted. In our previous article, More Cell Sites – Better, Faster, and Cheaper, we discussed the need to find a better way to acquire and build more cell sites (small cell, as well as DAS and macro sites) that is faster and cheaper. At Md7, we are investing a lot of money in R&D to find and improve upon solutions. We believe that the site acquisition process must be blown up and redesigned to be better, which we believe inherently results in cheaper and faster processes.



The most basic rules of etiquette are clear- you should not use your mobile phone during a Thanksgiving meal. The rules would also state that you should not use your phone while spending time with family before and after the meal. Admittedly, that second one is a little tougher to follow, especially if you have family members with whom you only interact on this single holiday each year and you are not good at chatting about the football game on TV.

However, there is one use of a cell phone that is not only appropriate but will also significantly improve Thanksgiving or any holiday that involves a large, home-cooked meal. Using it to access one or more of the many planning and recipe apps to help plan and prepare what, for some people, can be an overwhelming feast.

A few years ago I used a popular note-taking app to list out everything I needed to do to host a large Thanksgiving dinner including my annual menu, shopping list, favorite recipes, and even simple tips/reminders that help make the day flow smoothly and less stressful. Then each year, while eating leftovers the following day, I tweak my notes with improvements or lessons learned. Now there are no loudmouth family members complaining because I didn’t make their favorite dish. I have also fine tuned my timing so that all the food is ready more or less at the same time by simply counting back from the scheduled meal time to when I should begin preparing each individual menu item.

There are a number of recipe apps, note taking apps, and posting boards to choose from. I prefer a note taking app because it allows the most flexibility. As a novice cook, I recommend you try a couple until you find one that works for you. I also offer the following tips and menu from my own notes to help you get started.


  • Turkey
  • Mom’s Stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Susanna’s Baked Yams
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Green Beans
  • Asparagus
  • Corn – frozen
  • Mom’s Cranberry Salad
  • GrandMa’s Graham Cracker Chocolate & French Vanilla Pudding Cake
  • Rolls
  • Gravy
  • Wine
    • Red – Zinfandel
    • White – Chardonnay


  • Keep the traditions – cook what keeps and passes on memories even if they are a bit hard. One person’s favorite dish makes their holiday more special.
  • Go grocery shopping on Sunday to be completely prepared ahead of time and avoid the rush on Wednesday and allow turkey time to thaw.
  • If serving more items than you have room for on the stove, then use a steamer to cook the veggies. By simply adding lemon juice and Poultry Seasoning in the water then tossing them in olive oil with garlic salt you save time and they taste great.
  • Stuffing tastes better with stale bread – remember to rip open a loaf and leave it out on Wednesday night.
  • Turkey
    • Buy on Sunday and allow to thaw in refrigerator until Tuesday night
    • Brine Tuesday night until Wednesday night or Thursday morning depending on meal time.
    • Remove from brine Wednesday night or first thing Thursday morning, pat dry and place back in refrigerator to dry
    • After it is stuffed, season the top with chopped, fresh poultry herbs/seasoning and then spray with Olive Oil Pam to lubricate the bird




By Mark Christenson and Tom Leddo



AT&T plans to acquire Time Warner for $85.4 billion. It is an amazing announcement that has already generated a lot business and political headlines both in support and in opposition to the deal.

AT&T and those in favor of the deal argue that this is vertical integration and does not eliminate any competitors.

Opposition to the deal of course argues that this will make AT&T too big, too powerful and hurt consumers.

Whether you favor this deal or not is not what this article is about. Whether this deal is allowed or not (remember AT&T’s failed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile announced in 2011?) is not my intention to discuss. Whether deal this is successful or not (remember the $164 billion merger between AOL and Time Warner in 2000 that quickly resulted in a $99 billion loss in 2002 and a 90% loss in the market capitalization of AOL?) will not be known for some time.

But there is a takeaway from this announcement that is important for all of us who work in the wireless infrastructure industry – this deal is about the marriage of delivery and content, and regardless of how this deal plays out, more densification is needed in wireless networks.




The revenue curve for wireless operators has flattened and ARPU is being pressed down so now operators need to find new ways to grow. In the past that growth came primarily from expanding of the network (specifically by adding coverage through acquisitions or building new sites) and by increasing the speed of the network (faster service drew more subscribers). However, coverage and high speeds have reached some degree of ubiquity. Furthermore, if the United States Department of Justice is going to continue to block future consolidation of wireless operators, then their growth must come from somewhere else.

Additionally, the behavior of wireless consumers is changing. More people are cutting the cord and going exclusively wireless. This includes a change in how people watch their favorite shows. Statistica.com notes that:

“According to Nielsen, over 280 million Americans were watching traditional TV and already over 130 million are watching video content on their phone in 2015. Aside from phones, tablets are also a popular mobile video device, with an estimated 89 million U.S. users watching video content on their tablet devices. These figures are expected to surpass 120 million users in 2019.”

With the traditional method of growth having more-or-less reached capacity, and the changing demands for what and how content is viewed, AT&T is simply seeking to grow their top and bottom lines while simultaneously responding to these new consumer demands. AT&T is seeking to marry Time Warner’s premium content providers like HBO, CNN, Turner Broadcasting and Warner Brothers with their wireless delivery capability.


In short, AT&T shareholders want growth and AT&T consumers want mobile content.   But, generally speaking, you can’t get mobile access to the content without continuously improving the network.

Wireless networks, are sometimes referred to as “dumb pipes.” However, this deal helps us suddenly view networks correctly, as a strategic asset that, that if combined with the right content, bring significant additional value to consumers and shareholders alike.

This is important and exciting for each of us as a wireless consumer, because the content we want from one source may soon be readily available in the formats and locations we desire.

But as individuals who makes their living in the wireless infrastructure industry, this announcement is huge. It is an $85 billion bet that video will dominate wireless traffic in the near future. And more video traffic means significantly more capacity is needed. That “content pipe” needs investment and expansion along with the content in order to ensure the content is available to the voracious appetite of consumers.

The unprecedented amounts of traffic that will soon be flowing through wireless networks means that the traditional, macro networks we spent the last 30+ years building must continue to rapidly evolve and be enhanced. The current evolution is the large-scale deployment of small cells, creating densification that will handle the traffic.

However, small cells are different from the macro sites that have been deployed in the last three decades. Apart from the obvious differences of the hardware components and the coverage provided, we need to implement new, scalable and cheaper deployment models. We need new processes to manage the ongoing maintenance and upgrades of what may be 10x the number of small cells when compared to macro sites. We need updated municipal codes, different value propositions for those involved in hosting sites, and different economics for all parties to ensure long-term sustainability. And while it all needs to happen quickly, there is still a lot of uncertainty and a lack of unity when it comes to the details. To quote Jay Brown, CEO of Crown Castle, who spoke at the HetNet Expo this week in Houston “the deployment of small cells is really challenging, but telling you that is like describing the flood to Noah.”

Regardless of what happens in the AT&T/Time Warner deal, mobile video will continue to be the new norm. In other words, wireless networks need to be densified and we have lots of work to do.



The Current State of Small Cells

After much ado, it appears that small cells are finally beginning to be deployed in earnest. The wireless industry has been talking about mass densification and exponential increase in the number of sites via small cells for the last few years. Now it appears the trucks are beginning to roll in significant volume. And that is good news!

However, as an industry, we need to continue to climb the small cell learning curve in both the development of the small cell equipment and in the deployment of that equipment on a site-by-site basis. Just as OEM’s will surely continue to improve small cell technology and work to reduce the size of equipment, service companies and infrastructure providers are still working to develop and standardize workable solutions for backhaul, power, zoning/permitting, attachments rights, etc. And all this needs to be done at a scale and pace to keep up with the exponential demand for bandwidth.

Recently, I was introduced to a better way to understand the evolution of small cells by Mark Kelley, CEO ofopenRAN, a provider of ultra-high speed carrier Ethernet backhaul. Mark shared how he uses Gartner’s Hype Cycle to view small cell evolution and noted that small cells are currently in the fourth of five phases on the Hype Cycle. The current phase is called the “Slope of Enlightenment.”

Overview of Gartner’s Hype Cycle

According to the Gartner web page, the “Gartner Hype Cycle methodology gives you a view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing a sound source of insight to manage its deployment within the context of your specific business goals.”

Sharing further from the Gartner web page:



Each Hype Cycle drills down into the five key phases of a technology’s life cycle.

Technology Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.

Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.

Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.

Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.

Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

Small Cells and Gartner’s Hype Cycle

As mentioned above, when Mark Kelley applies Gartner’s Hype Cycle to the evolution of small cells it is pretty clear that the technology is currently moving up the “Slope of Enlightenment.” Or, in the adapted words of Gartner, “the benefits of small cells are beginning to crystallize and become more widely understood while some failed technology has been scrapped as second and third generations of technology begin to be deployed.”

With Mark’s permission, I share how he illustrates the evolution of small cells on the Gartner Hype Cycle.


This is not only true of the technology, but also of the deployment process for small cells. At Md7, we watched the iPhone act as a Technology Trigger for network capacity and thus network densification. We ran up the Peak of Inflated Expectations in 2012 and 2013. And, after a couple of false starts, we retrenched as we went through the Trough of Disillusionment.

Currently, in the second half of 2016, Md7 has encountered a new, tempered excitement as we manage several small cell deployments in the USA and in Europe and climb our way up the Slope of Enlightenment. It is exciting to be a thought leader in the development of new deployment models and processes as we grow through this significant evolution.

If Mark Kelley’s version of Gartner’s illustration holds true, and I believe it will, then the best is yet to come. Over the next three to five years, small cells will transition into the Plateau of Productivity. This is the phase where small cell deployments become widespread, the technology and networks are optimized, the integration of cellular and Wi-Fi plays out and deployment models become streamlined. And, on top of all that, we will continue to evolve toward 5G.

It is a very exciting time to be in the wireless industry.




On September 8, I had the privilege of moderating a panel at the Tower and Small Cell Summit that accompaniedCTIA Super Mobility Show at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas, entitled “Small Cell Zoning: It’s A Problem. We Can Fix It.” The panel consisted of three attorneys; two from Southern California – Jeffrey Melching and Tripp May who typically work on behalf of municipalities and Chris Fisher who typically represents carriers in zoning issues and also just happens to be the President of the New York State Wireless Association. I say it was a privilege because these three attorneys are some of the best in the industry and I only had to ask the questions, not answer them.

The panel did a great job discussing best practices and how to find common ground between deploying small cells in the right-of-way and maintaining the aesthetic integrity of communities.

The 15-20 members of the Md7 Land Use team and I often discuss best practices regarding the rapidly evolving practice of deploying small cells in the ROW. I was encouraged to learn that many of the things we practice at Md7 are in fact the same things this panel recommended such as starting to communicate with municipal authorities very early in the zoning process, take the time to educate municipalities on why small cells exist and how it may be time to update the code to address this evolution in technology.

In my own words and in my own opinion, the following is a countdown of the top-five “take-aways” from this talented panel.

5. There are more success stories than horror stories – All three attorneys agreed that more often than not the operators and communities appear to be working together to reach a solution. That doesn’t mean that either side gets everything they want, but rather reasonable compromises are being reached. As is the case with many things, we just hear about the horror stories and often assume that is the norm – it isn’t.

4. Most municipalities do not oppose small cells – Generally, many municipalities recognize the need for, and in some cases even welcome, the new deployment methods to accommodate demand for high-speed connectivity to accommodate data and streaming video. According to Jeff Melching, in many cases the demand for data is beginning to outweigh the opposition against cell sites.

3. Working together and listening pays off – Tripp May pointed out that he often doesn’t even get asked to work with a municipality unless there is an issue and often those issues are caused by a threatening or unreasonable position on behalf of one side that causes the other side to take an aggressive counter position. By simply being reasonable and listening to each other, many of the issues can be avoided.

2. There are pros and cons to the shot clock. While both parties typically recognize and understand the shot clock, it may be equally advantageous to use it as a guide rather than a hard and fast rule. Federal shot clocks require operators to submit “complete” packages for zoning approval and then the zoning authority has 60, 90, or 150 days to approve or reject the submission, depending on the site build. If followed to the letter, an operator and vendor working on their behalf could spend a significant amount of money compiling a complete package for submission in anticipation of “starting the applicable shot clock” only to have it rejected outright and thereby wasting time and money. A better approach may be to discuss in advance the zoning authorities’ concerns and factor those issues in the initial design. This approach requires buy in from both sides- the applicant will need to produce some preliminary visual representations earlier in the process, while the municipality needs to be willing to provide meaningful feedback prior to a complete application and shot clock beginning.

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – In case you haven’t noticed the common thread in the first four of the top five in this list, it is clearly that communication is the key to finding a win/win solution to deploying small cells in the right-of-way. At the end of the one-hour panel I asked all three attorneys “if they wanted all attendees to take away just one thing from the session, what would it be?” All three answered “communication.” Each elaborated uniquely but I would summarize their comments as not only talking but also listening and considering to the other side’s position. More often than not the opposing position is grounded in reason and a mutual solution can be reached if respectful communication occurs.

Candidly speaking, the Land Use team at Md7 has been telling me for several months that communication is simply the best approach to working with municipalities when deploying in the ROW. I am glad to hear the experts agree.



By my count there are currently four different ways to make a purchase when standing in line at a retail store–not counting cash or checks.

  1. Swipe your credit/charge card
  2. Insert your chip embedded card
  3. Scan the QR code in a unique retail app on your phone
  4. Pay with your phone by tapping the payment machine with your smart phone using Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay

In many countries, swiping is already a thing of the past and it soon will be in the rest. The static nature of the data embedded in a strip that is swiped is simply too easy to steal. Due to this outdated technology, my personal visa had to be replaced twice in the last six months.

The encrypted data in a chip embedded card is not static so even if it does get copied, it changes for every transaction so it is nearly impossible to counterfeit. This technology, known as EMV (an acronym for “Europay, MasterCard, Visa” who created the technology), is widely used throughout Europe and is relatively easy to use. However, in the USA, not enough retailers have invested in the terminals at each point of sale. Many of the companies that have actually installed the terminals are not yet using them and have a sign telling you to use the swipe instead. They may even have tape over the card slot to prevent you from inserting your card.

I have been scolded by a handful clerks for vacillating between the swipe and the insert!

Version 2Using a QR scan code within a specific retail app is an easy way to make frequent purchases and accumulate loyalty points at places such as Starbucks or Subway sandwiches. But who wants to thumb through a bunch of unique apps to find the specific one that is needed to pay in a particular location. Not to mention that some require you to “load” your app by prepaying so they get interest-free use of your money.

Clearly the best solution is holding your phone near or tapping it against a payment terminal and paying via your account information stored securely in your phone. Mobile payments use the same EMV technology as the chip card, and have a second form of authentication by requiring your phone PIN or fingerprint. This can also be combined with an expanding number of loyalty programs. Mobile payments are faster, easier, more secure and I can consolidate all my loyalty cards. Woohoo!

So what the problem? Well, not every retail location has invested in the terminal to process mobile payments.

In the USA, the liability for fraudulent charges recently shifted from the bank to the retailer. This is providing the incentive for retailers to incur the expense to shift from traditional cards to EMV chips at the point of sale. But not all of these machines are compatible with mobile payments. Samsung Pay gets around this by allowing you hold your phone next to where you would normally swipe a credit card and then communicating with the magnetic card reader – this does enable your Samsung phone to work in almost all locations.

We still have a lot of options and a lot of confusion. I anxiously wait for the a transition to a more standard system to evolve!



In April of 2009, I was at an industry event where one of the speakers was the former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore. He made a couple of predictions and as I look back on them it is quite obvious he was right.

No, no… I am not talking about that! I am of course talking about the wireless industry.

The event was the 2009 CTIA trade show in Las Vegas, and Vice President Gore was the keynote speaker on the final day. This was when CTIA was still at the Las Vegas Convention Center rather than the Sands Expo. CTIA often has a pretty big speaker on the final day and, as I assume it was intended to do, I stuck around to hear what he would say even if it is not directly related to the wireless industry. In this case, my expectations were pretty low but Mr. Gore made his comments very relevant. I often think back to what he said and how accurate he was about his predictions for the wireless industry.

Although he also spoke about global warming and national security, his comments that have caused me to reflect the most over the ensuing years were those he made about the economy and politics, particularly, how the mobile handset would really impact our nation. Acknowledging that the speech was over seven years ago and I can’t find a complete video or copy of the text anywhere online, I still think it is worth sharing my recollection of these two topics.


Bear Stearns, the investment bank and brokerage firm, had just collapsed in September of 2008 and at the time of his speech we were in the heart of the 2008-2009 subprime mortgage meltdown.

Attendance at CTIA was pretty low and the overall morale of the those attending the show was even lower.

While I never thought of Al Gore as an optimist, he spoke about how we were on the front end of a revolution and how as an industry we would continue to invest in infrastructure to meet growing demand. He was right.

At that time, according to Wikimedia, Apple had sold a total of only 17.37 million iPhones from the introduction of the original iPhone in Q3 of 2007 through the end of Q1 2009 when the second generation iPhone (iPhone 3G) was the new hot product. By comparison, Apple sold 125 million iPhones in the first six months of 2016 alone.

As further evidence of how the smartphone has evolved over the last seven years, I offer this photo that I took of Vice President Gore that day with my Blackberry Curve. Although small and with terrible resolution and clarity by today’s standards, it was virtually state-of-the-art at the time!

Article photo - Al Gore at CTIA 2009

Former Vice President, Al Gore speaks at CTIA in April of 2009. Photo taken with a Blackberry Curve.

Our industry was relatively stable compared to most of the economy at that time. If you lost your job in 2009 and found yourself sitting at the kitchen table trying to decide which bills to pay, you always paid your phone bill before your mortgage. You couldn’t find a job without a phone and the banks were easier to negotiate with than a cellular service provider.

Recurring service revenue and soon-to-boom smartphones sales weren’t the only part of our industry that rose during the economic downturn. The LTE build out began, and that kept many people in the wireless infrastructure industry employed while many friends and neighbors in other industries were struggling to make ends meet.

But bigger than our ability to endure through a struggling economy, Gore noted that information would be the dominant strategic resource throughout the 21st century. We are only sixteen years into this century but he appears to be right so far about information and how we communicate. And this leads me to the second of two things he spoke about that often causes me to reflect.


When Vice President Gore spoke at CTIA in 2009 he compared the wireless handset at that time to the advent of the printing press and how information could be widely distributed to everyone. But, he said, the mobile phone will take it much further. The mobile phone would give a voice to the general population.

As I recall, he stated that prior to television, politicians had to create a local presence and go door-to-door to make speeches and meet voters. This allowed voters to speak with them directly and to influence decision making. But in the era of televised politics, communication became somewhat one-directional. Politicians would speak to a camera and buy advertising to influence voters who basically sat at home and listened. This lead many voters to become a bit lazy and less engaged.

Gore noted that the mobile phone would change that. It would return the power to the voters because they would have great ability to choose the source of their news and would be able to comment on what they would hear. The phone would always be within reach and the internet would allow each person to offer their thoughts and opinions to the entire world. Since that time, the explosion of various forms news and blogs as well as social media have changed our political landscape.

President Obama was the first candidate to use social media as a means to distribute his campaign message. And, regardless of one’s opinion of Donald Trump, there is no denying that he won the GOP primary with very little advertising and a whole lot of tweets. I would argue that the entire Trump phenomenon would not have even occurred if it weren’t for the way communication has changed over the last several years.

Entire political movements have quickly ignited and spread through social media – Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter are perfect examples.

Regardless of who wins in November, future candidates will view and engage voters differently. Social Media flowing in both directions will be a major part of future elections.


As noted previously, I was not able to find a complete video or copy of the text of Gore’s speech. But I did stumble across a Liveblog by a guy named Vikram who apparently was also in attendance that day. He notes that Gore stated that when “he and Bill (Clinton) took office there were only 50 websites”. That was in January of 1993.

Resisting the obvious opportunity to drop a joke about who “invented the internet” I’ll just give Vice President Gore his due. I walked into that 4,000 seat auditorium that day with an expectation of hearing a lifetime politician make a politically oriented speech about the “hope and change” that had just occurred three months earlier. Instead, I heard an excellent speech on the impact our industry will have on the future. I left feeling quite inspired and motivated, especially considering the economic environment at that time.

As I do each year, I’ll return to Las Vegas for the 2016 CTIA Super Mobility show at the Sands Expo September 7-9. This year’s headline making keynote speaker will be Mark Cuban; the businessman, investor, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of Shark Tank. We’ll see if he, too, has any bold predictions that inspire my thinking for the next seven years.

See you in Las Vegas!

POKÉMON INVADE MD7 OFFICES (Augmented Reality Becomes Mainstream)



A couple of years ago I attended a SIG event (Special Interest Group) focusing on augmented reality (AR) that was hosted by EvoNexus, a San Diego based, non-profit, technology incubator that helps accelerate the growth of entrepreneurial companies in the southern California area. They also provide excellent networking opportunities in the San Diego tech community.

As an ole wireless, real estate guy with no technology experience, I lacked the vision at that time to see the practical implications of AR and couldn’t understand how it would play out in the market place. I believed it had value, but I wasn’t able to grasp it.

Personally, the only application of AR I had experienced was the yellow, computer generated line that appears on television as the first-down indicator for a college or pro (American) football game. Now my vision is beginning to expand. The most obvious, well known example is Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game that uses the GPS on your iOS and Android smartphones to capture and even battle virtual creatures overlaid on real images through your smartphone camera.

venonatPokémon creatures are everywhere and everyone is either playing Pokémon Go or making fun of people who do. The Md7 offices in both the USA and Europe and the Md7 team members are no exception. The first documented capture of a #Md7Pokemon was made by Lynn Whitcher, Md7 General Counsel, in our headquarters in San Diego. As she walked down our hallways, Lynn was surprised to find a round, fuzzy, purple Venonat peering around the corner at her. She captured the creature (once on camera, and again with a Pokéball) and an addiction was born!

Lynn has even begun to become friendly with a few. Since the initial capture by Lynn and her subsequent befriending of the creatures, other Md7 team members have been also become friendly with Pokémon within Md7. Captures have been made from San Diego, to Seattle and all the way our Maastricht office in The Netherlands. The entire collection of photos can be found on Instagram via @md7llc and #Md7Pokemon.


For those of us who are not into Pokémon Go but are interested in other examples of AR technology, checkout thisrecent article in USA Today that features “five more cool AR apps” – Yelp, Blippar, Google Translate, Crayola Color Alive and Star Walk 2. While I may not have fully appreciated the market value of augmented reality when I first heard about it at the EvoNexus, SIG event a couple of years ago, I see it now. And I also expect we will see a lot more of it in the near future.



By Sean Maddox, Land Use Project Manager at Md7 and Tom Leddo, Vice President of Md7

The much anticipated rollout of small cells appears to have finally arrived. The wireless infrastructure industry has been forecasting the small cell boom for the last couple of years and while the current wave is not as big as initially anticipated, the work is rolling out, and along with it a lot of new challenges. It’s clear that business as usual (which arguably no longer works even in the macro-site context) has no place in small cell deployments.

Some of the hurdles include:

  • developing new deployment models, including internal tracking and project milestones tailored to small cell polygons and clusters, rather than macro-site systems,
  • negotiating bulk attachment agreements with a variety of municipalities, utilities and pole/infrastructure owners,
  • rapid, large scale deployments at a low cost per node; and of course
  • working with local municipalities to develop guidelines for deployments specific to small cell technology.

In our opinion, the last issue is the most significant challenge we face at this time. On the one hand, operators have an immediate need for large-scale, efficient deployments in the rights‑of‑way. On the other hand, municipalities need to maintain the architectural and historical integrity of their communities while faced with an extraordinarily large volume of applications crossing their desks and (often) antiquated code, guidelines, and processes designed for hundred-foot towers. Given the stakes, the wireless infrastructure industry must take the lead to bridge these issues.

The following table outlines these two points of views from a high level.




Mobile operators need to deploy a lot of new technology quickly and at a low cost due to their saturated market space. Based on the latest technology, one of the best ways to do this is to mount small cells on utility and light poles in the right-of-way.

Local officials want to make sure the latest technology being mounted on these poles is deployed in a manner that is consistent with the look and feel of their community so that their citizens (ideally speaking) can have access to bandwidth without even knowing where the rad centers are located. Many local officials are just now being exposed to small cell technology for the first time, leading to small cell approval processes being shoehorned into macro-site build processes.

As carriers and municipalities work through newer deployment models, frustrations have arisen on both sides. However, at the end of the day, mobile operators and local officials both just want to meet their customer’s/citizen’s expectations.

Is it possible to satisfy the consumer and the citizen in each of us?

At Md7, we believe the answer is yes – small cells can be deployed and even accelerated in a responsible manner.



The following are the top-five tips that the Land Use Team at Md7 has generally found not only satisfy the local officials, but also actually accelerate deployments for our customers.

1. Treat people with respect. At Md7, “respect for the individual” is one of our six core values. Simply put, treat each person as you would want to be treated. If we treat each person we encounter as we want to be treated (even if they are opposing us on an issue), life is just more enjoyable.

2. Approach your municipality early. And often. For most jurisdictions, small cells are part of a new world. Therefore, as soon as a project is in-house (and subject to client consent), approach the jurisdiction with the project. The more visual materials available, the better. Getting the planning office involved early on allows for mutually agreed upon designs and government buy off. Bring in updated materials as they become available to continue the earlier dialogue and to help avoid expensive and time-consuming design revisions.

3. Aesthetics matter. The look of the final constructed project matters a lot. It matters to the municipalities, it matters to the citizens, and it matters to every future deployment. An aesthetically displeasing build leads to community distrust. Keep the wires tight and equipment small. Remember, this may be someone’s home. The look of the deployment must fit the look of the neighborhood.

4. Take the long term approach. If you push an approval request through in an irresponsible manner you may, in some circumstances, actually get on-air more quickly. Or, more often than not, you may actually delay your deployment through multiple rejections and resubmissions. Not to mention, you will damage relationships with the key decision makers within a community and often scorch the earth for future deployments.

5. If the municipal code or local guidelines are out of date, work with the municipality to update them. Md7 has actually done this in a few occasions. Many municipalities don’t have the time or resources to draft new code or guidelines for a technology they have never seen. By taking the time to educate them on the new technology and even giving them examples of code or guidelines from other municipalities, the goodwill you create more than offsets the time and cost to your projects on the front end.

The wireless consumer is also a citizen. The people who earn a living developing wireless infrastructure ultimately serve the same individuals that local government officials represent. The Land Use Team at Md7 has found that practices such as these not only smooth out the entitlement process, but actually accelerate deployments – particularly in the rapidly developing arena of outdoor small cells.



By Tom Leddo, Vice President at Md7 and Lynn Whitcher, General Counsel at Md7


“A favorite theory of mine — to wit, that no occurrence is sole and solitary,

but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often.” Mark Twain


Anyone who has worked in the wireless infrastructure industry for a while has heard the term NIMBY, an acronym forNot In My Back Yard. According to Wikipedia:

NIMBY is a pejorative characterization of opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development because it is close to them (or, in some cases, because the development involves controversial or dangerous technology) often with the connotation that such residents believe that the developments are needed in society but should be further away. The residents are often called Nimbies and their state of mind is called Nimbyism.”

In the wireless infrastructure industry, this “controversial or (perceived) dangerous technology” is a cell tower.

We first heard the term NIMBY in the late 1990’s. In 1996 the industry began to rapidly deploy the first digital networks, or what we now call 2G. Cell towers were new to most communities around the country and therefore most municipalities did not have sufficient code to deal with these new structures, nor the staff to handle the abundance of zoning and permitting requests.

Some developers took the lack of code as an opportunity to argue that there was nothing to prevent them from building these new tall structures. The result was an onslaught of moratoria against the development of towers across the country, which in turn resulted in increased levels of litigation.

It was an understandable situation. Investors had just paid billions of dollars for wireless spectrum and were in a race to develop their networks in what was forecasted to be a booming industry. Newly incorporated, mobile operators were in a hurry, and it was reasonable for local planners and commissions to want to preserve the aesthetics and beauty of their communities. Nimbies began to attend zoning hearings by the busload.


Twenty years later, wireless history is about to repeat itself. The only difference is that instead of 200’ masts and rooftop mounts, we are deploying suitcase sized boxes and small domes on light poles in the public right-of-way. People who live in suburban or dense urban neighborhoods may return from work one afternoon to find the latest technology deployed next to their driveway or just outside the window of their second story bedroom in an apartment or townhouse – or said another way, in their front yard.

If we are not careful, we are going to create an entire new movement of social media empowered people with the battle cry of “NIMFY!” and this will result in another wave of moratoria and legal battles.


Source: Wisconsin State Journal

The wireless industry has been placed in a difficult position. Consumers demand 24/7 high‑definition video streaming and reliable download/upload capability in their homes, at their offices, and while on-the-go in coffee shops, malls, and waiting in line – everywhere and any time. People get frustrated when they can’t get a signal on their phone, emails don’t send, or social media updates fail to post. This is the generation of the cord-cutters: people who proudly renounce landlines and/or cable and rely on wireless connectivity instead. However, high volume wireless use requiresdense wireless infrastructure solutions. It’s a simple matter of math and science. Large macro-site towers serving large geographic areas no longer have the capacity to meet current consumer data use. Homeowners have spent hundreds of dollars on in-home signal boosters, only to find themselves pulling over on the drive home to complete a call because there is still no signal at the house. The practical reality is that we need wireless facilities located closer to the high-volume user. Ironically, it’s the mobile user, not the carrier, who is driving wireless installations into residential areas. Rest assured that carriers do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to design and install a facility that is not needed by the customers. These small cell facilities are low‑powered and serve only that specific neighborhood. Cell sites are coming into residential neighborhoods because that is where the high-volume data usage is.

Right-of-way installations are not new. In fact, the carriers have a federal right to use the public right‑of‑way without discrimination.[1] Carriers obtain encroachment permits or franchise agreements (similar to the franchise agreements given to public utilities or cable companies) from the local municipality to use the public streets. Wireless carriers are often certified by the state public utilities commission. DAS and small cell attachments are found on utility poles, traffic signals, and street lights throughout the United States. Right-of-way installations have been the solution to preserve coastal lines and provide an alternative to contested macro-site tower proposals. There are many outdoor small cell and DAS deployments that are installed without heartburn to the public or city planners. In fact, many jurisdictions require no zoning review for right‑of‑way attachments.

DAS and small cells can provide a win-win for the carrier and the public. For example, Verizon Wireless worked with the City of San Francisco to create a plan for the deployment of 400 small cells that balanced the carrier’s desire to more effectively meet current and future consumer needs with the preservation of the unique beauty and character that defines San Francisco as a world-class travel destination filled with historic sites and famous architecture. The examples below depict elegant small cell deployments.


Source: RCR Wireless

But, where an installation is deployed directly in front of a residence without notice, or a visually obtrusive installation is located outside a historic building, public opposition may potentially arise. In the 1990’s, the first-movers sometimes scorched the earth with unsightly tower deployments, burning bridges with the public and city planners for the carriers that followed. We hear reports that a similar approach may be underway with right-of-way installations. That method does not work in a 21st century society. In an era of social media and the internet, wireless facility installations do not go unnoticed. The internet and social media, the very reason why the facilities are installed in the first place, provide a conduit for information and complaints to proliferate. As a result, carriers are voluntarily and involuntarily relocating controversial pole installations.


The demand for 5G will only increase the need for densified networks in high‑volume urban areas. Wireless carriers need a stable, predictable environment in which they can efficiently deploy DAS and small cells within the right-of-way in a timely and cost-effective manner. Addressing public opposition and, worse yet, incurring the costs of relocation, diverts precious time, resources and money that a carrier would be better served investing in additional network infrastructure enhancements.

So, what do we do about it?

The following are a handful of lessons[1] we (should have) from the late 1990’s and (hopefully) won’t repeat in the late 2010’s.


1. Understand the environment surrounding the site. When designing a site, consider the look and feel of the location. For example, the installation of a new pole support structure or larger installation may meet opposition in an area with undergrounded utilities or in residential neighborhoods. In contrast, that same design may be appropriate for industrial areas or urban thoroughfares proliferated by other street furniture, such as kiosks, cabinets, traffic signals, news racks, trolley poles, and street lights.

Also, familiarize yourself with any prior community concerns (if any) relating to cell sites. Even where community meetings or notices are not required by law, these may help smooth the overall process and encourage community acceptance of the site. Many of our clients have excellent materials designed to educate the general public. Take advantage of these resources. T-Mobile’s How Mobile Works website uses easy to follow graphics and straight-forward explanations to illustrate the interaction between larger tower sites and their smaller counterparts, the conditions under which a small cell system or DAS may be needed, and the benefits to the consumer (improved coverage and network speed) and the general public (improved 911 accessibility and caller location and identification services).

2. Silence in the code isn’t necessarily a green light. Carriers and tower companies should not assume that just because a local zoning code is silent on right-of-way wireless installations, this is the equivalent of a green-light to install whatever you want, wherever you want. Unless industry deployments are responsible and reasonable, a municipality may react by imposing a moratorium and developing onerous deployment requirements for future installations.

Given the opportunity, carriers can act responsibly and reasonably. Take, for example, backup generators. The federal government has explored the idea of regulating and mandating the installation of generators at cell sites to protect public safety and welfare in the event of a natural (or other) disaster. The wireless industry responded by voluntarily rolling-out back-up emergency generators at their sites. The carriers have also voluntarily implemented 911 wireless location capabilities far in excess of current Federal Communication Commission requirements.[1] As an industry, we do not need government intervention to make common sense decisions.

3. Earning the municipality’s trust and respect will allow you to be an ambassador for positive changes. In recent months, the Md7 team has been working on a small cell polygon located in a burgeoning suburb in the Pacific Northwest. This particular municipality had never encountered the zoning approval of a small cell. Faced with a 30-node polygon, the jurisdiction initially requested we submit 30 separate zoning applications, each with a $5,000 deposit. After lengthy discussions with the jurisdiction, the planning department agreed to consider the polygon as a single system, reducing the number of applications from 30 to 1. This approach makes practical sense for both parties. Neither the jurisdictions nor the carriers can afford the time and money expended in treating a small cell node in the same manner as a cell tower. But change requires trust, which is often hard to earn and is easily lost.

Site acquisition and wireless industry professionals must be trained to effectively communicate to the municipality that expedited deployments support and further the interests of the community. Relevant factors may include: wireless service issues within the city, homebuyer preferences towards connectivity, and the symbiosis between the proposed small cell deployment and the municipality’s general or comprehensive plan.[2] Once an agreement is developed with the municipality, stick to the plan. If, for some reason, changes in the field necessitate a different direction, communicate with the jurisdiction early and often. Where mistakes are made, fix them quickly.


1. Identify and communicate relevant concerns. To the extent that a jurisdiction has concerns regarding small cells and DAS installations within the right‑of‑way, it should issue clear standards that preserve the governmental interests while balancing the infrastructure needs of the community. Examples of jurisdictions that have already addressed right-of-way installations include Portland, Oregon; San Carlos, California; and Alpharetta, Georgia. And, even where we may not agree with the jurisdictional process or requirements, clear communication of the relevant requirements helps us submit complete and accurate application packages.

2. Make it easy to comply with local process and requirements. Design requirements and approval processes should be easily available, preferably online. Consider email or online application submissions. Additionally, it is a pleasure to work with planning departments staffed with knowledgeable and easily accessible personnel.

3. Be prepared for volume. Municipalities should be prepared for the onslaught of applications for right-of-way installations. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing that that the only planner that can review your application is on vacation or only comes into the office once a week. The much anticipated 5G mobile standard will only increase the number of siting applications being submitted. Inside Towers reports that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler expects 5G’s infrastructure will rely heavily on small cells, towers, antennas and backhaul. Chairman Wheeler notes, “To make sure we have this connectivity with high-band spectrum will require a lot more small cells, which means a lot more antenna siting decisions by local governments.”[1]

To learn more about best practices for right-of-way deployments, click here.


In the 1990’s, wireless connectivity was a luxury. Fast forward 20 years and wireless communication has moved from convenience to necessity. This utility has become essential to public health, safety, welfare, and happiness. Thus, while many not often realize it, the wireless industry and municipalities share a common goal of serving the greater public good. The same people that comprise the wireless customer base are also the government’s constituents. With that in mind, neither side can afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. We have much work to do.

In recognition of the essential nature of wireless service and the benefits it brings to the community, and in further recognition that there has been a long history of onerous and unwieldy siting processes in some jurisdictions, lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels have implemented or proposed regulations and legislation to help ease obstacles to deployment. With this ability to expedite deployments, the industry must ensure that it does not violate the trust placed in us by jurisdictions. We look forward to seeing more jurisdictions take a forward thinking approach in investing in their communities by helping to bring wireless connectivity where it is most needed.

[1] 47 U.S.C. §§ 253(a) and 224(f)(1).

[2] Many of these lessons are taken from Best Practices for Deploying Wireless Infrastructure in the Public Right-of-Way, by Daniel Shaughnessy of Md7, available at: http://www.md7.com/2016/04/best-practices-for-deploying-wireless-infrastructure-in-the-public-right-of-way/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_9-1-1

[4] See Best Practices for Deploying Wireless Infrastructure in the Public Right-of-Way, by Daniel Shaughnessy.

[5] https://insidetowers.com/cell-tower-news-new-5g-world-will-rely-on-familiar-infrastructure-fccs-wheeler/?utm_source=Inside+Towers+List&utm_campaign=29b7de2147-6_21_20166_20_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_af16c4fc22-29b7de2147-66070353&goal=0_af16c4fc22-29b7de2147-66070353



Michael Habets, Md7’s Key Account Manager for the Benelux Region of Europe who works in the Md7 office in Maastricht, Netherlands, doesn’t usually attend site walks. However, this particular walk was not typical so he decided perform the work personally – and as a result his calves were sore for days!

You see, Michael spent fifteen hours in the winter, walking on a beach in thick sand. He estimates he walked a total of 27 kilometers in total over two and a half days with his backpack and gear in tow. All this in search of the best site acquisition strategy for deploying small cells to provide coverage on a beach in Walcheren, the popular tourist area along the the coast of Zeeland (the westernmost province of the Netherlands).

The local community and business owners wanted the coverage to help support the tourist-based economy, driven by Dutch and German tourists on holiday during the summer months. The county conducted their own study and requested the help of mobile operators. Gaining community support can sometimes be challenging, but this case was different.

The challenge of providing mobile coverage for this stretch of beach along the North Sea is that the beach rests below large dunes that block coverage from the inland cell towers (or masts as they call them in the Netherlands) and these dunes cannot be disturbed in any way. So the real challenge was providing power and backhaul to support a beach that has been awarded the international “Blue Flag” environmental award eleven straight years for clean water and sand

B0HC61 Beach pavilion, North Sea coast near Zoutelande, Walcheren, Zeeland, Netherlands

As you can see from the accompanying photos, this popular tourist location during the summer months has beautiful beach pavilions every few hundred meters along the shoreline where vacationers eat Fish (Zeeuwse Garnalen / Zeeuwse shrimps) and drink pints of Heineken and the Belgian beer, Jupiler, each summer.

Due to the dunes, no new power can be brought in and each small cell node must be powered by the existing electrical system at each beach pavilion. That power was originally installed decades ago. Additionally, a microwave daisy chain had to be designed from pavilion to pavilion for backhaul. This too was a challenge due to the high winds from the sea.

According to Michael, it was an unusual but fun project as he was able to help in the deployment of the latest technology in order to provide much needed coverage and support the local tourist industry.




“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” – Mark Twain

A few years ago, I was eating breakfast in a very crowded restaurant at the Wynn while attending CTIA Super Mobility show in Las Vegas when a young woman noticed our common CTIA lanyards and asked if we could share a table.

At that moment, I knew of only three things that we had in common – we were both carbon based, attending CTIA and hungry. So of course we made small talk about CTIA.

She kicked off the conversation with a typical question “what part of the cellular industry are you in?” When I replied that I work in a very “non-sexy” segment of the industry – real estate, she of course assumed I meant the retail locations.

Because my wife has informed me more than once that site acquisition is not interesting table conversation, I quickly tried to explain how cell site leases work and then shift the focus to her motivation to be in Las Vegas for this show.

As it turns out, she was a technology blogger attending CTIA Super Mobility to see some of the latest gadgets and wireless products. But it was what she said next that got me thinking. She said “so you are saying that we have all of this cool technology on display here this week, and none of it would work without a good, old fashioned real estate deal underneath it.”   Prior to that breakfast I had never thought of it that way, but she was right!

There is no question that various wireless technologies, especially the handsets and apps that run on them, are more interesting than cell site leasing, that is why I often blog on those things as well as wireless real estate. But let’s give ourselves some credit – site acquisition is crucial to the timely deployment and maintenance of a cellular network.

And over the last few years cell site leases have become even more crucial as mobile operators seek to maintain their average revenue per user (ARPU) in a significantly more competitive environment. Operators are paying more attention to rents as their rent rolls are among the top three operational expenditures (OpEx) along with payroll and backhaul.

When engaging site acquisition we need to make sure we are keeping a close eye on the rents in addition to the location and speed of our deployments. As these rents continue to escalate along with the number of sites needed to meet the demand for bandwidth, rent roll will continue to be a key issue for wireless CFO’s because they know their networks will not work without the underlying deals that those rent rolls maintain.

I was so encouraged by my conversation with this young technology blogger that when we exchanged business cards, I thought for sure she would contact me to be interviewed for an article on her tech blog about site acquisition. Unfortunately, I never heard from her. I guess my wife is right.





Better, faster and cheaper. It has been said that in the pursuit of innovation, you can have two of the three, but you cannot have all three, so you need to decide.

I understand the point – to attempt to have all three at once creates a conflict. Further, I agree that in many cases this conflict actually occurs.  But I do not believe it occurs in all circumstances, particularly if you are truly innovating. Or, as discussed in Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma, if you are innovating in a disruptive manner.

If you are simply seeking to continue to do the same ole thing in a better, faster and cheaper way then you will eventually run out of economies of scale and plateau.  True innovation often requires you to blow up your current process, product or service and find a new way to deliver.

The history of business is littered with companies that actually had a first mover advantage, but failed to follow through out of fear that they would eat into their own profit margins and/or make their own products obsolete.

  • Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for $50mm in 2000, but passed.
  • Xerox actually invented the computer mouse, a windows/icon based interface and the laser printer but did not follow through because they chose to focus on the profitability of their photocopying machines.  Instead, they licensed those new technologies to Apple, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard.
  • Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $5 billion in 2002, and Facebook for $1 billion in 2006, but backed out on both deals due to price.
  • Blackberry refused to give up the keyboard when the iPhone was introduced in 2007.
  • United State Postal Service. Need I say more?


The wireless infrastructure industry needs a new deployment model.  We need to find a better way to acquire and build more cell sites (small cell, as well as DAS and macro sites) that is faster and cheaper. The insatiable demand for data combined with market saturation (everyone already has a mobile phone) have resulted in a new market place for wireless operators and the wireless infrastructure industry must now respond.

At Md7 we invest a lot of money in R&D – research and development. It is not intuitive to believe that a site development company would spend money on R&D, but we have since our inception in 2003, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  We have a full-time team of process managers, data managers, software engineers and programmers that continuously seek to improve LiveTrack™, our site development and lease administration software.  We have actually blown it up, rebuilt and even renamed it several times over the last 13 years.

Over the last 12 months, the wireless infrastructure industry has seen site development pay-points decrease significantly while the pressure to deliver NTPs, and get sites on-air faster has significantly increased.  Both are a result of pressure to be cheaper and faster, but as an industry, we have not yet seen a lot of innovation to be better.

Simply hiring more site acquisition personnel and leaning on them to magically produce faster result on thousands of small cells for less money without a new, disruptive process or technology will not produce the desired results.

The site acquisition process must be blown up and redesigned to be better, which inherently result in cheaper andfaster processes.

The LiveTrack™ team at Md7 (our R&D department) works everyday with our program and project managers to develop new ways to track, measure and improve every step in the site development process.   And the words Better, Faster and Cheaper, or “BFC” as Jeff Krauel, the Chief Architect of LiveTrack™ abbreviates it, is a part of their daily nomenclature.




In February of 2016, Cisco published The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, a white paper that they refer to as “an ongoing initiative to track and forecast the impact of visual networking applications on global networks.”

According to Cisco, “visual networking is where streaming video, high-speed networks, and interactivity come together to give you a richer experience. Using video to communicate, share or receive information over the Internet,… Visual networking combines social networking with high-def video. It is video chat, video on demand, video messaging, online video, Internet TV, and so much more.”

This white paper updates Cisco’s forecasts of the growth and demand for data over mobile networks, worldwide over the next five years. Admittedly, parts of this technical document are a bit heady; however, the findings that are noted are pretty interesting. Especially, when you consider that the wireless infrastructure industry must keep up with the demand for more underlying infrastructure for our customers as they race to keep their networks up to speed with the demand for anytime/anywhere data and video.

The following are some astounding statistics from the VNI forecast that got my attention:

1. Global Mobile Data Traffic Growth

In 2015 – Global mobile data traffic grew 1.7-fold, or 74%.

By 2020 – Globally, mobile data traffic will grow 8-fold from 2015 to 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 53%.

2. Global Mobile Data Traffic Growth in Exabytes Per Month

In 2015 – Globally, mobile data traffic was 3.7 Exabytes per month in 2015, the equivalent of nearly a billion DVDs each month or 10 billion text messages each second.

By 2020 – Globally, mobile data traffic will reach 30.6 Exabytes per month by 2020 (the equivalent of 7,641 million DVDs each month).



3. Global Mobile Data Traffic Compared to 2010

In 2015 – Globally, mobile data traffic in 2015 was equivalent to 15x the volume of global mobile traffic five years earlier (in 2010).

By 2020 – Globally, mobile data traffic by 2020 will be equivalent to 120x the volume of global mobile traffic ten years earlier (in 2010).

By any measure, the amount of capacity needed to support users’ needs of mobile data will continue to grow substantially, and the builders and managers of networks, mobile and fixed, need to have a plan.

4. Global Mobile Data Traffic Offload to Wi-Fi or Femtocell

In 2015 – Mobile offload exceeded cellular traffic for the first time in 2015. Fifty-one percent of total mobile data traffic was offloaded onto the fixed network through WiFi or femtocell in 2015.

By 2020 – 55 Percent of Total Mobile Data Traffic Will Be Offloaded to WiFi or femtocell by 2020.

Although the percentage is not that large, the takeaway is that Wi-Fi is, and will continue to be, a key component of mobile data traffic, and how Wi-Fi is integrated with the cellular networks is crucial to a good end-user experience.

5. Global Mobile Video Traffic

In 2015 – Mobile video traffic accounted for 55%–more than half—of total mobile data traffic in 2015.

By 2020 – 75% of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2020.

This is an indication that video already is and will continue to be a huge driver of the need for adequate capacity in networks

6. Global Wearable Devices

In 2015 – Globally, 97 million wearable devices (a sub-segment of the machine-to-machine [M2M] category) in 2015 generated 15 petabytes (1 petabyte equals one quadrillion bytes) of monthly traffic.

By 2020 – Cisco estimates that there will be 601 million wearable devices globally.

Wearable devices typically do not have embedded cellular, but rather connect to the mobile network through an accompanying smartphone. Thus while the direct impact on mobile traffic will come from the smartphone itself, a 6X growth in wearable devices is a strong indicator of how innovation drives new uses and increased demand for bandwidth.


What does it matter if a bunch of statistics confirms historical growth and projects a lot of future growth?

Md7 operates in the wireless infrastructure space. The data that has grown, and is going to continue to grow, is transmitted over the very wireless infrastructure that we help build and support.

“Working without a net” is an expression denoting high risk for the user. With the historical and projected increases in demand and usage, working without an adequate internet (or a struggling mobile internet) may pose high risk for the user and the provider. If our customers’ customers (wireless subscribers of the network operators) are going to continue to use more video and buy more smart devices that consume more data for longer periods of time, then we will need to continue to innovate and develop new, faster and less expensive ways then ever before to help grow networks to keep up with demand.




The advent of the Ultra HD TV combined with the high cost to attend a major sporting event has drawn millions away from the stadiums and arenas to watch their favorite teams at home or in sports bars.   Now in response, many venues are getting savvier about wireless technology and smartphone apps in an effort to offset this trend.

Personally speaking, it started several years ago when I paid a lot of money for poor seats, parking and low quality concession food to watch an NBA game where Shaquille O’Neal didn’t even hustle back on defense. Over time, I found myself upgrading my TV and watching more games at homes. I also have discovered it is a lot of fun to watch my favorite team with other likeminded fans in a sports bar where I can watch several TVs, as well as have food and beer brought to my table.

And now, watching a game is becoming a multi device experience. We watch the game on TV while we use our phones, tablets and laptops to look up stats, track scores, tweet comments and monitor our fantasy teams.

But the venues are getting smart and beginning to counter with some attractive features to get us back in the seats.   For example, stadiums have been working to improve the food quality by offering food such as local BBQ or sushi. Stadiums have also worked to increase service by delivering food to your seat within the venue. And the cellular operators are significantly upgrading their networks in and around the venue while the stadiums are enhancing their own Wi-Fi for fan use. Additionally, stadiums are developing apps to enhance the fan experience. These apps manage ticket and parking access, allow you to order food for delivery to your seat and/or express pickup and also offer HD instant replays of the action.

The biggest challenge these stadiums face is keeping up with the fans’ demand for wireless data, which can substantially impact the overall fan experience.

It is estimated that the amount of data traffic consumed at the Super Bowl doubles every year. This year, the four major carriers are reporting that the fans in Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California for Super Bowl 50 used a combined 15.9 terabytes on their networks and we are still waiting for numbers from the stadium Wi-Fi.[1] These early reports already indicate that this will double the data consumed at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona, where fans used 6.5 and 6.23 terabytes of data between the four major carrier networks and the stadium Wi-Fi respectively. This essentially doubled the 2.5 TB of cellular and 3.3 TB of Wi-Fi consumed in 2014 at Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.[2]

While the typical sporting event does not consume anywhere near 15.9 TB, having adequate bandwidth in and around a stadium certainly impacts the fan experience.

Personally speaking I have experienced both poor and excellent in-stadium connectivity. I have attended some regular season college football games in campus stadiums where I could not even get a simple text to go through to ask if my wife if she wanted a soda while I was in line at concession.   What was really annoying at each of these stadiums was that I knew other people who subscribed to a competing cellular carrier and had no issues. One was even streaming video of another game on the other side of the country.

On the good side, I experienced fantastic connectivity at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona while attending the College Football Playoff National Championship game in January of this year. Since this was the same stadium that hosted the Super Bowl in 2015 I had high expectations, which I am pleased to say were exceeded. I was able to upload photos and short videos, participate in group chats with other friends in the stadium and even did a video call (albeit a bit choppy) with my son who was watching the game at home and was very excited about the outcome of the game.

As host of the most recent Super Bowl, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is most likely the premiere venue in the world for wireless deployments. The stadium is divided into 40 coverage zones with 400 antennas (many under the seats by fans’ feet) and 450 remote radio units. The stadium also boasts its own Levi’s Stadium app. However I can only assume it will soon be eclipsed by NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas when it hosts Super Bowl LI in February of 2017.

So, the thousands of folks in the wireless infrastructure industry have done a great job of enhancing the fan experience inside some of the large sports venues. But not every stadium can deliver this superior connectivity. It is simply too expensive to put millions of dollars into every stadium and arena in the country.

And this combined enhanced experience of nicer stadiums, better food and high bandwidth comes at a cost to consumers. Meanwhile, the increased quality of TV’s combined with the comforts and food in homes and favorite sports bars gives us an equally enjoyable experience without fighting the crowds.

In my opinion, there is nothing more exciting than the atmosphere at a live game, but sitting in front of a TV with friends and food where I can get commentary to go with each play provides a better viewing experience. I guess I am still undecided.

[1] Mobile Sports Report, February 2016 – http://www.mobilesportsreport.com/2016/02/super-bowl-super-das-verizon-att-combine-for-12-2-tb-of-cellular-data-at-super-bowl-50/

[2] Mobile Sports Report, September 2015 – http://www.mobilesportsreport.com/2015/09/dgp-upgrades-levis-stadium-das-in-preparation-for-super-bowl-50/

T-Mobile’s John Legere – The UnCEO

Eight Months ago, I tweeted that I “like the pair that John Legere (T-Mobile CEO) has on him”.

The T-Mobile Super Bowl ad yesterday just confirms it.




In his keynote address at CTIA 2015, Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales told a humorous side story about the name “Wikipedia” somehow getting mistranslated into menus at Chinese restaurants (see the included photo).

Stir-fried pic 3


Next time I am in Beijing I’ll be sure to sample one order of the “Stir-fried wikipedia”, the “Stir-fried wikipedia with pimientos” as well as the “Fried special wikipedia” from the menu in the photo. I have no idea what I’ll get but I think I can muster up the courage to give all three a try.

Wikipedia, the web-based, free, editable encyclopedia, contains over 35 million articles written/edited by over 70,000 online contributors in 290 different languages.
So, as Wales tells the story, when he asked a team of Wikipedia’s contributors in China how this could have possibly been mistranslated, they collectively came to the conclusion of “we have no idea”.

A blogger named Jim Benson notes what he describes as a plausible etiology:

“Hey I’m making the new menu, what’s the English name for those flat crispy mushrooms?”
“Um, there isn’t one.”
“Well what should I put down here?”
“I don’t know, look it up in Wikipedia.”

I argue that Mr. Benson’s theory is as good as any. However, it doesn’t explain how other restaurants came up with a similar mistranslation since the one he ate at is not the only one with this mistranslation.

Another blogger, Mark Liberman also calls out a mistranslated use of the name Wikipedia – “barbequed congo eel with wikipedia and Fermented bean curd.” While it sounds like a great deal at only 68 Yuan, I simply don’t think I am adventurous enough to try an order of “congo eel” even if this place makes the best tasting “wikipedia” in all of Beijing. I don’t order eel sushi and I am not going to order “congo eel” either.Stir-fried pic 1

Blogger Chris Leo posts others that are funny too – the following are my five favorite. However, you can use Google to find a several more side-splitting translations, but beware, many contain vulgar language.

  1. “Chicken without sexual life” – Tong Zi Ji 童子(do you mean virgin chicken?)
    (Proper English translation should be “Spring Chicken” or “Poussin”/”Coquelet” in French). They refer to young chickens which have been bred for eating (for less than 3 months).
  2. “Red burned lion head” – Hong Sao Shi Zi Tou 红烧狮
    (Proper English translation should be “Freshly Stewed Pork-balls”) – note that it’s actually pork, but the fact that it looks like lion head, that’s why it’s called Lion Head (shizi tou) in Chinese. But in English, it would really be misleading if people mistake it as lion meat.
  3. “Husband and wife’s lung slice” – Fu Qi Fei Pian 夫妻肺片
    (Proper English translation should be “Spicy Pork Lung-slice”) – it’s a Sichuan food.
  4. “Government abuse chicken” – Gong Bao Ji Ding
    (Proper English translation should be “Chicken with Cashew Nut” or as it is known in the west, simply, “Kung Pao Chicken”). It’s actually a Chinese food of Shandong origin, but is often mistaken as a Sichuan food as it’s quite spicy. I don’t know its historical origin, but there must be a history anecdote that leads to why it was literally named “Court Abused Chicken”.
  5. “Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman” – Mapo Doufu 麻婆豆腐
    (Proper English translation should be “Bean curd with spicy minced pork”) – it’s a Sichuan food.





In October of 1984 I had just begun my senior year of high school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Ronald Reagan was running for reelection against Walter Mondale. President Reagan came to the University of Alabama on a campaign stop and I had the opportunity to hear his remarks.

I was one month under the voting age of 18, but more importantly to me, I was thirteen months under the old legal drinking age of 19 in the state of Alabama and now, thanks to President Reagan, I was 37 months under the newdrinking age of 21.

Reagan had recently signed a law that withheld federal funding for highway construction from states unless they had a drinking age of 21 so Alabama and several states raised the age to 21 to get the money. This law immediately added two loooong years to my desire to legally consume cheap beer in a can.

While at the time, I certainly was not very knowledgeable of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I do know that Reagan had often spoke against the intrusion of the Federal government in matters belonging to the state and local governments. So I, of course, considered him a hypocrite for forcing the states to change their own laws.

President Reagan changed my mind with a response that he gave to a college student who asked him about this issue in a question-and-answer session following his speech. Reagan replied “…when we saw the difference in areas where the drinking age had been increased and the difference in the accident rate, that I just thought that your lives were worth it.”

On that day; with that simple, unrehearsed, well delivered statement the “Great Communicator” convinced me that waiting two more years was a good idea and I never complained about it again.

[See the entire exchange between President Reagan and the student in the inset included herein.]


You may have seen one of the many recent articles in the news that addressed the reduction in the number of drunk driving related deaths in cities after the introduction of Uber – the Ride Sharing service that works through an app on your smartphone. Articles appeared in a variety of publications across the political spectrum such as Newsweek, theLA Times, The Daily Beast and Fox News. Each of these articles is based on a study by Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal of Temple University where the authors note “we find a significant drop in the rate of (alcohol related vehicular) homicides after the introduction of Uber.”

The coupling of Uber’s disruptive technology with the company’s labor practices has made the ride-sharing app quite controversial. Uber has severely dented the market share of traditional taxi services despite the fact that Uber drivers are considered self-employed contractors rather than employees, thereby receiving no benefits such as health insurance.

A class-action lawsuit over Uber labor practices is playing out in California and protests have risen across the globe including one in France that forced Uber to suspend its service in order to protect its drivers from violent attacks.

Love or hate Uber, there is no denying that the company has rocketed from a start-up in March of 2009 to company which the Wall Street Journal notes as having a valuation of over $50 billon (yes that is a “b”).

I acknowledge that I am a fan of the Uber business model. I have used the service several times in many cities and compared to traditional taxi services I have had friendlier drivers, cleaner cars, faster pick-ups and no body odor issues.   But even if I weren’t a fan, the aforementioned news articles would sway me to support Uber for a single reason.

Just as I heard Ronald Reagan say over thirty years ago, “… lives are worth it.”


The following is an excerpt from the transcript of a question-and-answer session between President Reagan and students at the University of Alabama regarding the legal drinking age. – October 15, 1984

Q: Good morning, Mr. President. Welcome to the campus. I’m Ed Howard from Birmingham, and I’m representing the Crimson White—that’s the campus newspaper. And so, our question for you is concerning the legislation that you signed into law that requires States to raise their legal drinking ages to 21. Why is this action not a contradiction of prior stances you’ve had against Federal intrusion in the State matters? And if it’s a justifiable contradiction, does that now mean that the ends justify the means?

The President: I have to tell you that you’re absolutely right, that my concern was over—having been a Governor for 8 years—this intrusion that I’ve been trying to eliminate since I’ve been President of the Federal Government. But in this particular instance, there was a tangled question with regard to State borders—and interstate type of thing where some States with one drinking law, and the others not-and then you had the traveling across the State line to where it was available, and then driving back, sometimes intoxicated and the great loss of life that the accidents that we’re having because of that.

And I had to say finally that in this instance and with the kind of gray area that was there, I had to say that the—when we saw the difference in areas where the drinking age had been increased and the difference in the accident rate, that I just thought that your lives were worth it.




The following is an updated and slightly revised article that was originally published in AGL Magazine in April of 2009. Since the fundamentals of Supply and Demand are timeless and the wireless industry is even more competitive than it was when originally published, we thought this information was worth sharing again.


Everyone wants to get paid what they’re worth.

Whether it’s based on principle or pride, it absolutely galls us when someone else gets a better deal, or we lose out to someone who undercuts our asking price. While we steadfastly hold something’s worth as an absolute, we have often come to this determination by a subjective, mind’s eye calculation of what is commonly referred to as “the going rate.”

For cell site landlords, the determination of worth goes something like this: “My buddy is making $1,850 a month on his cell site lease and my site is in a much better location than his so I should be getting $2,000.”

Landlords are often irked and even angered when they are told that’s not the rate that the tenant wants to pay. They think they’re getting duped. They don’t understand why this tenant is not honoring the going rate. And therein lies the problem: never confuse the “going rate” with the “market rate.” The last house to sell on my street in San Diego almost a year ago has nothing to do with what a different buyer will pay for my house today.

The real market rate for cell site leases is not what another tenant paid down the street. In today’s business environment, it’s what the competing potential landlord across the street will accept. Thanks to a flattening industry growth curve, carriers’ escalating operating costs, the public’s voracious appetite for bandwidth and the network’s evolving engineering requirements, cell site leasing has become a competitive marketplace.



For years, it has been said that the going rate for a cell site lease is roughly $1,800 to $2,100 for space on a tower or rooftop and $500 to $600 for ground space to build a tower. Obviously, this varies widely depending on a downtown Manhattan location vs. rural farmland. But this dollar amount represents the “average rent” that tenants have been willing to pay over the last several years in a market where speed and coverage were a carrier priority, the high costs of which were off-set by an ever-increasing number of subscribers. With subscribers now reaching market saturation in tandem with escalating operating costs to meet technology demands, carriers are reevaluating their expenses and what they’re willing to pay for their cell site leases. Add to that new technology and network evolutions that have redefined “the best site in town,” and you’ve got a new model that will change the business of cell site leasing. This dynamic is slowly but surely redefining what is market rate rent.



Let’s refresh on how “market price” is determined. Market price is the price of a product or service as determined dynamically by buyers and sellers in an open market. Thinking back to Econ 101, it is simply where the demand curve intersects the supply curve. As the desire for goods increases while the supply of goods holds constant or decreases then the price for those goods rises (Exhibit 1). Conversely, if the desire for goods holds constant or decreases while the availability of goods increases, then the price falls (Exhibit 2).


Exhibit 1


Exhibit 2

In cell site lingo, if a potential tenant really desires a cell site and there is only one potential location for that lease, then the rent will increase. And if that tenant’s desire holds constant or decreases while the potential options for cell site locations increase, then rent will decrease.

The anatomy of the cell site network is rapidly changing to accommodate a progression in services that started with voice communication and now includes email, photos, music, video and more. This network evolution has redefined what “the best site in town” looks like, which dramatically affects the supply-and-demand formula of lease rates.


While one might think the Empire State Building may offer great coverage of Manhattan, it is actually not a useful cell site because a single site that high will not be able to handle the millions of calls made each day in New York. Obviously the best way to cover Manhattan is through several sites, much closer to the ground and spread throughout the city. Additionally, more cell phone users and more varied applications now require a greater bandwidth, which further increases the need for sites closer to the ground. Instead of one mountaintop site covering lots of users, carriers piece together lower elevation sites to accommodate greater bandwidth requirements necessary to meet technology demands. In other words, the average Rad Center is decreasing. As sites come closer to the ground and closer to each other, carriers are less particular about their location. This flexibility combined with an increasing ability to use non-typical cell sites (such as light poles) creates a competitive environment that drives cell site rents down.



In negotiating leases on behalf of tenants, the most common response we at Md7 hear is, “Another carrier just paid $X down the street so I want at least $X.” But the variables of site selection are unique to each site and situation.

Historically, tenants have focused on quick deals for “must have” locations as determined by radio frequency needs, rather than good deals. This has resulted in short-cutting the negotiation process which determines the market equilibrium. The saying “you want it bad, you get it bad” characterizes the situation carriers have created for themselves – over-inflated rents. Carriers are now beginning to manage their real estate assets with the same savvy indicative of corporations focused on maximizing their investments and minimizing their operating costs.

As a landlord, what can you control when it comes to your cell site? Site selection is based on a number of factors that tenants consider when determining sites to include in their network:

Constructability – Is the land or rooftop viable for developing and maintaining a cell site?

  • Zoning/Permitting — Will the tenant be able to obtain the necessary zoning approval and permits for site development?
  • Access – Is the location reasonably accessible for the development and ongoing maintenance?
  • RF Coverage — Will the site provide the desired coverage?
  • Rent — How much will the landlord charge?

Of all these variables, the only one you can control is rent. And to win, you may need to reconsider your perception of the “going rate” — especially when there are other sites in the search ring that are competing for the carrier’s business. Not to mention the fact that carriers are coming to terms with the fact that they have to live with this site for a long time and they’re willing to negotiate it correctly upfront. Remember that in a dynamic market, the market price is what BOTH parties will accept. What’s the guy across the street willing to do? Will you let him steal your deal? Will you put yourself at a competitive disadvantage by clinging to an outdated understanding of the going rate?

As one tower landlord told us when he saw a surveying crew staking out a site on his neighbor’s property, “I would have to look at that tower every day on my neighbor’s property, so I might as well do what it takes to get it on mine and get paid for it.”

The new realities in the wireless market place are putting more pressure than ever on what carriers are willing to pay each month. And both sides of the cell site negotiating table are much more aware of the need to negotiate hard for good rents. Let’s be smart with each new and or modified lease we touch.




Traditionally, wireless operators would build cellular networks that covered the overwhelming majority of the places that their subscribers live, work and visit while these same subscribers would frequently switch to private Wi-Fi networks at home, coffee shops, hotels and other places to lower their data charges or when the cellular network was congested. There were few in-building “cellular” systems.

The occasional exception would be a third-party Distributed Antenna System (“DAS”) system in a stadium, arena or other large venue such as a shopping mall that was installed and managed by either an operator, a venue owner or a third party that charged operators access to the DAS.

However, the exponential increase in demand for wireless data is now causing this traditional model to evolve. Cellular operators are racing to deploy DAS systems in large venues as fast as possible but these systems are expensive, often well in excess of $1 million. While this capital outlay makes sense for a Super Bowl stadium, campus environments or other high profile facilities, the economics simply do not work when scaled across multiple facilities, particularly office buildings and multi-family residential. And, while the still developing metro-cell and small-cell technology will make many more deployments more economical, it is still not yet serving as a single solution for all facilities that are beginning to have capacity issues. The economics of a small cell system are not yet fully developed but it is becoming apparent that it will work in some, but not all, buildings. And even if it did, the operators simply cannot build out every sports arena, concert venue, hospital, hotel, tourist area, office building (both large and small) and apartment complex in time to keep pace with demand.


Generally, the facilities that need in-building coverage fall into four categories.

  1. Large venues such as stadiums arenas and campus environments.

As mentioned above, there are certain venues that wireless operators are just going to build-out such as a football stadium that is hosting the Super Bowl. While it is not accurate to say that cost does not matter in a venue of this type, carriers are going to spend what is needed to make sure they have the capacity needed to make events at these types of venue seamless. There is no way a major operator that often sponsors events at stadiums and arenas is going to let tens-of-thousands of customers have a negative experience due to lack of capacity in an arena where they often even own the naming rights.

These are covered with a neutral host DAS. One carrier or a third party will build out the DAS with other carriers joining to share the network with some sort of cost sharing or other financial arrangement.

DAS networks of these types are common in facilities ranging from large stadiums and arenas to large office buildings and shopping malls.

Who Pays: – Typically the cellular operators pay either directly or through a recurring payment to the owner of the DAS system. However, some venues still have their own self-funded Wi-Fi installed as well.


  1. Large and medium-to-large buildings.

One step below the large venue, where providing enough capacity is a business necessity, are large hotels and office buildings where operators certainly would like to offer in-building coverage but simply may not have the time and/or budget to get to all of them. They will get to them if and when they can.

The challenge with buildings of this nature is that there are just so many of them. The owners and operators of these buildings realize they have capacity issues that may be affecting their customers and tenants.

Operators that are facing capacity issues do not need to build them all at this time. If an operator is having capacity issues in a particular area of town, they can build out a handful of in-building systems in the area and thereby reduce capacity on the macro network. The remaining buildings will need to either survive off of the existing macro coverage and/or install their own private Wi-Fi system.

Some of these buildings may in fact be large enough to justify a DAS installation. Others may be good candidates for the rapidly evolving small cell systems that can be installed for less money. But if the building owners know they need to improve connectivity and have no visibility into an operator’s build plan, they may opt to take measures into their own hands by developing a more robust, private Wi-Fi network.

They are faced with either waiting for the operators to come or building it themselves. And in a world where connectivity is now the fourth utility, they are finding it harder to wait.

Who Pays: – The operators do in some cases; the building owners do in others.


  1. Medium and small buildings

This category includes medium to small office buildings, apartment complexes, retail, restaurants, etc. They are starting to see the need for connectivity beyond that provided by the traditional macro network.

For example, the Md7 office in San Diego is on the third floor of a three story, 75,000 square foot building that overlooks the I-5/I-805 “merge” with 10 lanes of traffic. We are also next door to an apartment/condo complex with several hundred units that were recently constructed. We have seen a significant drop in bandwidth in the last year but our building is simply not large enough to justify an operator installing a DAS and we are probably several years away from an in-building small cell. Hopefully we will get a few adjustments to the macro sites near by, particularly as the new apartments begin to lease-up. In the meantime, we have to closely manage our Wi-Fi.

A second example is a new, fairly large, trendy restaurant and bar in downtown San Diego that was built in a very old, historic building where there was no 3G or LTE coverage available. While on a recent date night with my wife, the server gladly offered us the restaurant’s Wi-Fi password so we could post and tweet photos of our food and tell the world how much fun our date night was in their restaurant.   Social media is key to driving their business and the new reality is that if people can’t use their smartphone in an establishment, they’ll leave.

While in both of these examples, the renting tenant is paying for Wi-Fi, many building owners are starting to acknowledge connectivity as a utility and are funding it themselves to keep their tenants satisfied.

Who pays: The building owners and/or their tenants.


  1. Residential

In 2009, I bought a new Femtocell device from my cellular service provider. My family had noticed that we had begun having problems connecting to the network and calls were dropping more frequently so I swallowed my pride and paid $250 to solve my carrier’s coverage problem. I expected to get maximum “bars” in my house easily and seamlessly. But my experience was far from plug and play. Actually when I called the carrier’s help desk they said something to the effect of “oh it doesn’t work with data plans yet. You’ll need to turn off the data portion of your Blackberry each time you walk in the house.” I promptly packaged it back up and returned it to the retail store.

Since that time two things have changed, I no longer use a Blackberry and my high hopes for a private femtocell in my home have dissipated. But Apple has solved both of those problems for me. I replaced the Blackberry with an iPhone and my femto with an Airport Extreme. I even solved my extended coverage problem by buying an Airport Express to stretch the Wi-Fi to the back of the house and backyard. I rarely make traditional phone calls at home; I generally text, post and use FaceTime. All of which are easy on my apple devices and free over Wi-Fi.

Who pays: The resident of course.



Wireless operators are obviously enhancing capacity with the largest venues first and then working their way down from there. But it is simply not realistic to expect them to completely underlay their entire macro network with a variety of microsites, aka the HetNet.

Even if they could reach every building, the capital expenditure required would be enormous and the operators already have to learn to operate in a new environment of 100% penetration and intense price competition.

The insatiable demand for bandwidth by smartphone users will not cease.

Building owners need to consider the reality about the new “fourth utility” – connectivity. Whether residential or commercial, tenants and customers within these buildings will continue to demand connectivity and begin to factor it into their decision about where they choose to live, work, shop, eat and all other daily habits.

Connectivity is now an expectation. We need to develop connectivity everywhere and, if not, consumers will begin avoiding the areas that don’t.

If you do not build it, they will not come.





While attending the 2015 CTIA Super Mobility show in Las Vegas, I was once again reminded how great it is to work in the wireless infrastructure industry. While the CTIA show itself is more oriented toward wireless as a whole and includes a lot of things not related to network infrastructure, the accompanying events like the Tower and Small Cell Summit and the annual Raymond James Breakfast Roundtable are great places to huddle with industry colleagues to listen and learn about the latest developments in the infrastructure segment of wireless.

While the first half of 2015 may have been a bit slow and forced us all to closely manage our cash flow as we wait for the operators to rollout the next phase of their network development, there will be another phase, and another one after that.

While eating breakfast at the Raymond James Roundtable titled Chaos, Convergence and Capacity I was reminded that this really is a great industry.   The following simplifies and summarizes my own spin on their event.


Despite the recent volatility in the stock market, the refugee issues in Europe, the turmoil in the Middle East, uncertainty in the Chinese economy and what may be the most realigning election year since 1968, everyone has a phone and everyone continues to pay their phone bill each month. Said another way, the wireless industry does not endure economic cycles in the same way as other industries.


Telecom convergence – the combination of voice, data and video on our smart phones make this a very exciting place to work.

Let’s give ourselves some credit here. None of the cool things we now do on our phones will work without a sound network. And that network would not exist without good site acquisition, A&E, design, construction, EFI, and maintenance. We contribute to some cool stuff.


If everyone is going to continue to pay their phone bill each month despite turns in the economy and our phones are becoming the ultimate do-it-all device then a lot more capacity will be needed on the networks. That means there will continue to be spending on network development. There will be more upgrades and ongoing maintenance on existing network infrastructure.

This means more work for us all, even if we have to live project-to-project.


While the infrastructure segment of wireless may be beholden to the operator’s deployment schedules, the truth is that network upgrades will continue. As Ric Prentiss noted during the Raymond James session, carriers operate in a “keep-up or fall-behind” marketplace and this will continue to drive capital expenditure despite overarching economic conditions.

As far as we can see, we have lots of ongoing work to do.




The first time I was invited to a Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum (WWLF) event by Nancy Winch I had to ask her, “Why are you inviting me?”

I was at the Wireless Infrastructure Show (PCIA) in Nashville at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in 2009, when Nancy asked if I was attending the WWLF breakfast the following morning. The event featured Anna Gomez, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). Ms. Gomez had previously served in the FCC and was newly appointed to the NTIA. She was a very impressive speaker for a group that I had only learned of the day before.

I had not planned on attending, but Nancy is a good saleswoman so she persuaded me to get out of bed very early the next morning, even if it meant I had to put on my suit. It was my own fault that I rolled in too late to get any sausage, eggs and grits.

To my surprise, it was a really good event, and as many men as women attended it.

Okay, WWLF, you got my attention.

Since then, I have met many women in wireless that I respect, like Patti Ringo and Md7’s own Lynn Whitcher. These smart and skilled women, who are also excellent networkers, have helped develop an impressive organization. WWLF hosts educational sessions available throughout the US, which include Lunch-and-Learns, online courses, guest speaker events and one-on-one mentoring programs. WWLF members certainly have a leg up in advancing in their careers.

Additionally, WWLF hosts the best networking events in the wireless infrastructure industry.

I am now a regular attendee at the annual WWLF events at PCIA (The Wireless Infrastructure Show) and at CTIA. Several members of the Md7 team attended the most recent event, which was held on the rooftop of the Cromwell hotel at Drai’s Night Club during the 2015 CTIA Super Mobility week in Las Vegas.

Simply put, these parties are excellent opportunities to meet and see many people in our industry. Each year, I make new acquaintances and catch up with old friends, all while exchanging knowledge and ideas.






Nomophobia – the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

According to Wikipedia, Nomophobia stands for No Mobile Phone Phobia and is a phrase that was coined in a 2010 study by the UK Post Office which commissioned a UK-based research firm to study the anxieties suffered by mobile phone users.

Setting aside the question of why the postal office spends money on studies of this nature, some of the findings are very interesting.

  • 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from nomophobia.
  • 53% of mobile phone users feel anxious when they lose their phone, have a dead battery or are outside a reliable coverage area.
  • One in two people never cut their phone off.

This study was completed in 2010. Surely in 2015 the iOS and Android devices have only driven these stats higher.

Business Insider (“BI”) published an article that cites Dr. David Greenfield at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine who connected smartphone addiction to dysregulation of dopamine. BI quotes Greenfield as saying, “Every time you get a notification from your phone, there’s a little elevation in dopamine that says you might have something that’s compelling, whether it is a text message from someone you like, an email, or anything. The thing is you don’t know what it’s going to be or when you are going to get it, and that’s what compels the brain to keep checking. It’s like the world’s smallest slot machine.”

Personally, I often experience phantom vibrations on my belt and reach for my phone even when it is not vibrating.

Having my mobile phone at work is a necessity. Not only do the majority of people who call me for work purposes use my mobile number rather than my desk phone, I get countless texts and emails throughout the workday.

Having my mobile phone at the grocery store… well I do use a grocery app for my shopping list and if I don’t  have my phone handy I’ll end up going back to the store because I forgot something on my shopping list-app.

While I am completely capable of putting my phone in airplane mode when working-out or on vacation so I can still use it for music or as a heart-rate monitor without interruptions, I’ll be candid in saying that I feel a little naked if I don’t have my phone with me wherever I am and would probably go back to get it regardless just to keep it with me.




Wireless operators are seeking new ways to navigate through the perfect storm of 100+ percent penetration (market saturation), price competition and the insatiable demand for constant high-speed connectivity. In other words, everyone has a mobile phone and the carriers are in a price war to retain and/or get new customers who have an increasing expectation for the ability to upload unlimited photos and stream unlimited video anytime, and anywhere.

But if carriers are going to be able to supply the bandwidth to meet forecasted demand OTT video, and the many other demands for wireless data, then there will need to be ongoing development of both micro and macro sites throughout the United States.

However, the development and upgrading of traditional macro sites has slowed significantly in the first half of 2015 from the frenetic pace caused by the need to upgrade networks to LTE over the last few years. Also, optimistic forecasts for small cells have yet to be reached primarily because the deployment costs per node do not provide the return on investment required to justify the installations in large volume. Furthermore, most of the major operators paused in 2015 to digest acquisitions, contemplate future financing and restructure their operations to adjust to the new realities in the wireless marketplace.

The latest forecasts indicate that capital expenditure will begin to increase for more cell sites and upgrades over the next few quarters. But it is becoming much more obvious that this rebound in cell cite development of both new and upgraded cell sites must be deployed much faster, more frequently and at lower costs.

Traditionally, site acquisition has been a very inefficient and unpredictable part of the site development process. And because site acquisition is the first part of the process for new and upgraded sites, if a forecast date is missed, the entire construction and installation schedule is thrown out of forecast and out of budget.

The wireless infrastructure industry needs to find ways to streamline site acquisition and make it much more predictable. In other words, new deployment models are needed!


Trying to accurately forecast site acquisition for a new cell site or to upgrade an existing one is almost impossible because the typical functions are completely subject to human behavior and thus highly variable.

This volatility can throw timelines and site deployment cost models into total disarray. Construction Managers and Project Managers need to have equipment and crews scheduled in the right place at the right time and if a lease is not executed or a permit is not obtained, the cost of moving or storing equipment and redeploying a crew can destroy margins.

A number of factors can delay a Notice To Proceed (NTP) such as leasing, zoning, permitting, structural failures, etc.   Often these problems begin to snowball and throw an entire deployment budget out of whack, cost PM’s their jobs and cause heart and other stress related problems – literally.

At the beginning of any project, no one can tell you with a reliable degree of certainty when a given landlord will properly sign and return a lease or lease amendment, how long it will take a municipal employee to review and approve a permit application or zoning request or what the structural pass/fail rate will be on a group of towers – especially now that radios are mounted in the air with the antennas. We no longer operate in the days where a failed structural analysis (SA) just results in a check request. Now a failed SA leads to revisions of the RF Data Sheets to try and meet the load capacity of the existing tower which is much easier said than done and causes further delays. There is more back and forth between site acquisition and RF than I have ever seen in the industry.

One way to eliminate this wasted expense and inefficiency is to forecast more conservatively and thus give a site acquisition team more time to complete their leasing, environmental and regulatory tasks. But let’s deal in reality. Even if a reputable site acquisition vendor develops what they honestly believe to be a sound forecast, there are simply too many unknowns and unforeseeable circumstances beyond their control.

In short, meeting the forecast for NTP’s is difficult at best.



  1. Ready, Aim, Fire!
    Let’s be honest. Deployment projects rarely start on time. Budget approval takes longer than expected, the issuing of PO’s is delayed and RF data sheets are released late and often change. And while the start dates are often delayed, the on-air forecast is rarely extended to accommodate the delays. This throws PM’s into a frenzy of activity and forces them to seek corners to cut and interim milestones to meet so they “appear” to be on time. Late starts are just part of life but when they occur without subsequently pushing out the targeted completion dates along with the pressure to get sites on-air, our industry typically skips the most important, initial step – planning. Most projects develop a scope of work for billing and milestone purposes but lack a detailed step-by-step process flow to get the work completed. By preparing a detailed plan up-front, weeks and even months of inefficiencies can be trimmed off the timeline. At Md7, we begin every project in front of a wipe board where we map out a step-by-step process flow and then turn that into a Visio flow chart. After a few iterations, we end up with ten to fifteen pages of process detail that streamlines the entire project. There are literally hundreds of steps and sub-steps to get from PO to NTP and, if not planned and tracked in that same level of detail, then we fall into reactive mode – which is what typically happens in site acquisition. To successfully complete site acquisition, you must be proactive and well prepared in advance. Typically in our industry, we talk about being proactive, but rarely are we actually proactive. While this takes extra time upfront, the time saved throughout the entire project more than makes up for it.
  2. You can’t control (much less forecast) human behavior
    I have heard it said many times that the post-NTP phase (construction and installation are the most expensive part of a deployment process and also the most predictable, but the pre-NTP, site acquisition phase is much cheaper and far less predictable and can throw the construction and installation phase into a tailspin. No matter how good of a negotiator, you can’t make a landlord sign a doc before they are ready. And if you pressure a smart landlord to sign faster they will actually strategically slow down to apply pressure for rent and other concessions. Similarly, no matter how good of a relationship you have with a municipality, you generally cannot expect a government employee or official to approve your document faster as they typically have their own strict procedures to follow. Personally, I believe that if you submit a well prepared, well organized and error-free zoning request or permit application you will get what you need MUCH faster than if you have a great relationship with the municipal employee behind the counter. Often there are well-intentioned attempts keep the site acquisition process progressing by visiting a landlord or municipality in person with a bag of bagels and waiting for them until they meet with you and grant your request or just buy them a steak dinner or a bottle of scotch. While this sounds like a great idea on a deployment call to get a slow moving site going, it is really just confusing busyness with progress.Keep in mind the old saying “if you want it bad, you get it bad.” If you want it quickly, you get lower quality which in the end might help smooth over a deployment update, but will in the end delay on-air.
  3. The spreadsheet deployment tracker is relic from the 1980’s
    According to Wikipedia, Lotus 1-2-3 was introduced in 1982 and Microsoft introduced Excel in 1985. Since that time the handset has evolved from the car phone, to the bag phone, to the brick phone to the flip phone and now the smartphone. Similarly the mobile networks have evolved from analogue AMPS (now called 1G), to digital 2G to 3G and 4G. But, for some insane reason we still use spreadsheets to track cell site deployments. Really??? We can develop a phone that can open and close our garage doors and turn on/off an HVAC system but we can’t create a decent workflow application to track deployments??? Mike Fraunces, Md7 President, wrote an article last year outlining how spreadsheets fail to deliver quality project details, process workflow and shorter cycle times. He also wrote a second one about how large enterprise software systems are too broad, lack the level of detail needed for a specific project and are not flexible enough to be customized for a specific, unique project, Md7 has developed our own tracking software – LiveTrack™. Designed with the complex needs of site acquisition in mind, LiveTrack brings multidisciplinary information and milestones to a central location, providing end-to-end management oversight to all aspects of the process. And we don’t have to wait for version 2.0 or 3.0 for upgrades. We meet with the customer to fully understand their concerns and needs and design the workflow tracking to meet those concerns and needs for each project, every time. With date and time stamping, quality data management and parallel process flows, LiveTrack shaves weeks off deployment forecasts.
  4. Decreasing pay points without increasing volume
    Simply put, we need to break the cycle of giving a handful of sites to multiple site acquisition vendors, particularly based on price. In his book A Practical Guide to Training and Development, Michael Moskowitz (who also just happens to be the Director of Human Resources for Md7) writes an excellent summary of W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points for Management. Therein, Moskowitz summarizes the fourth of Deming’s 14 points as “ ‘Move toward a single supplier for any one item.’ Multiple suppliers means greater opportunity for variation in source product quality.” In other words, by assigning more sites to a single vendor you can begin to standardize the product and quality. There are only two types of companies that can afford to survive on really low prices. The first is the small operation with limited overhead. The smaller the operation the less the overhead (self-employed people only have to pay themselves) but they also lack the resources to handle large volume. The second are companies who can produce in large volumes. Yes, they have more overhead, but they also can handle large volume and afford to refine and continuously improve processes so that costs decrease simultaneously as quality increases. The second is what we should be looking for in the site acquisition world. When site acquisition is performed in large enough scale, you can afford the resources necessary to develop and implement detailed plans of execution, develop the software to track the hundreds of details that must be managed to get a site on-air, reduce cycle times and lower costs. Another way to achieve economies of scale would be to assign all work on a single site to a single site acquisition vendor. Too many times the site acquisition work for a technology upgrade is assigned to one company, the generator upgrade to another and the lease renewal to third. Let’s get smart and consolidate the work.


  1. If you proactively plan and follow that plan, you can reduce errors and revisions, reduce cycle time and thereby reduce the number of issues that throw off a site acquisition forecast.
  2. If you prepare high quality documents and submit them correctly the first time rather than drafts and partially completed work (just to smooth over a deployment call) you will get a much faster response from landlords and municipal employees than if you sit outside their office hoping to talk them into pushing your work to the head of the queue.
  3. Trashing your spreadsheet and getting some flexible software that can track each deployment will certainly lead to better forecasting and reduced cycle times.
  4. Reduce the number of site acquisition vendors and allow one or a few to focus on quality and consistency, thereby reducing costs.

If you do these four things, you will not be able to forecast every site with 100 percent accuracy, but you will be able to significantly increase your batting average.



The great thing about a smartphone is that you can reach out to someone through multiple avenues anytime and virtually anywhere.  The bad thing about smart phones is that you can be reached by someone through multiple avenues, anytime and virtually anywhere.

– Bob Nichols, Md7 Lease Consultant in San Diego


phonesThe smartphone has made it possible to be reached anytime, anywhere for any reason.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether the constant contact through social media apps has broadened or damaged our personal relationships. Have tweets and status updates made us more superficial and lowered the quality and quantity of meaningful conversations in our lives or have they extended our communication worldwide to people we may not have kept in touch with or even known otherwise?

Md7 team members weigh in on the issue.

Drazen Toic, Md7 International – Manager for SEE Region

The way the smartphone affected my life could be both positive and negative.

While all the information I need workwise is now accessible on my phone anytime, the biggest struggle I find is to stop having my mind always “drag” on work related topics and issues. This aspect has impacted my life in a way that I have to limit myself reading emails when out of working hours.

Lately, when queuing for something in public, I tend to notice how much people in general are less aware of the society passing by and more focused on their smartphones, which I believe is not a great direction humanity is taking.

In addition, I tend to call less and use more messaging services (like Whatsup, email or Viber) which also generates detachment.

Svenja Preisler, Md7 International – Team Lead for D-A-CH Region

Messenger Apps: Who would have thought 10 years ago, that it would be so cheap and easy to keep in touch with friends and family far away.  Whatsapp, Telegramm, Viber… and all the other messenger apps make it possible that we are able to be in constant contact with the people who are far away from us and that we would miss a whole lot more if we would have to wait for their letter to arrive every 2 weeks. They seem to be much closer to us than the actual distance that separates us! Of course, everything has its pros and cons! So I do still write letters.

Pierre-Michel Bertin, Md7 International – Lease Consultant in Dublin, Ireland

I left France to come over to Ireland 8 years ago. Leaving my country, my friends and my family behind was not easy. Communication at the time was a real issue. I could not talk to them when I wanted and it was not free. Skype was great but smartphones did not exist and I had to be at home with a proper Internet connection to call them.

The first iPhone I got really helped me connect with my family and friends again. Then came along apps like Whatsapp that really keep us all close. I have friends in London, Tillburg (Holland), Beijing, Paris, Dublin, etc. and we are all chatting away like we use to do back in France.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a debate entitled “Is Technology Making People Less Sociable?” which addresses both the pros and cons of constant contact.

Personally speaking, I am 100% in support of this huge change in the way we communicate.

While I do have to discipline myself to not check my phone at rude times and focus on those around me, I know that social media has put me back in touch with hundreds of old friends from high school and college. I have also made several new contacts via LinkedIn and even some new industry friends like Patti Ringo who I have since gotten to know personally at trade shows. Without Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter none of these new relationships would even exist.

I’d bet that in 1876 there was a lot of people who were concerned that Alexander Graham Bell’s newly patented telephone was going to negatively impact the amount of face-to-face communication. Today we are just experiencing the latest revolution in the way we communicate and in another 139 years (or sooner) when we can communicate telepathically, there will be many who lament the good ole days of simple social media.



Did you see the “Connection Lost” episode of Modern Family that aired February 25, on ABC? The episode starts after Claire drops her iPhone in the toilet and is forced to use her laptop at O’Hare airport to sync-up with her entire family to address a family emergency. The entire episode takes place wirelessly on Apple products.

If you missed it, be sure to stream it on Hulu or on iTunes.

While making me laugh pretty hard, “Connection Lost” made me realize just how much our lives have changed in the eight short years since the iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs in 2007.  We used to hold the phone up to our ear with one hand and care about voice quality. Now we hold our phone with two hands while looking down and typing and care about speed/bandwidth.

Personally speaking, the apps on my smartphone have significantly changed my daily habits. The following are my personal top ten in no particular order.

  1. News apps have completely replaced print version of a newspaper. My favorite is the Wall Street Journal, particularly the editorial page.
  2. Google Maps has usurped the built-in GPS in my car. It is much better at helping me find an address, points of interest, places to eat and is easier to use.
  3. Facebook and Twitter have made posting Food Porn (not what you are thinking) a fun part of my business travel. When on business travel, you often eat alone. Posting photos of my meals and commenting on my favorite Bar-B-Que joints helps pass the time and usually strikes a few chords with people I don’t often speak with otherwise. Oh yeah, and speaking of eating out, Hello Vino helps a wine novice like me select the right wine with the meal in my photos.
  4. Lose It!, a calorie counting app has tipped the long-term battle with my weight in my favor.
  5. Digifit combined with a heart monitor has significantly improved my overall health.
  6. Evernote has finally given me a decent way to organize countless notes, including a few hundred of my favorite recipes.
  7. Uber!
  8. USAA has made mobile banking effortless.
  9. Games – I hate to admit it but yes, I have Candy Crush and Flow Free on my phone.
  10. Pandora and Spotify have personalized my music and iHeart Radio has kept me in touch with the local college sports talk shows back in Alabama.

Plus one more – as my colleague, Harry Kapp, reminded me, no list of top apps would be complete if it didn’t also include Happy Hour Finder. As Harry said, “nothing more is needed.”




In September of 2013, I wrote a blog called “Small Cells, Small Cells, Small Cells” about all the buzz and conversations around small cells. In short, I was saying that there was still a lot of uncertainty about small cells and that it may be a few years before we know how it would all play out.

Eighteen months later, we know a whole lot more, but we still do not have a single, simplified model for small cell deployment. We do know that deployment costs are forcing our industry to temper our high hopes for 2015 and 2016 deployment volumes and also forcing us to really think outside of the box.

Simply put, the biggest factor is of course cost. While it is generally agreed that the various versions of small cells are much cheaper than a Distributive Antenna System (DAS) to deploy, the ROI on individual deployments has prevented the deployment levels we anticipated a couple of years ago.

Demand for coverage and capacity is high enough that some venue and large building owners are willing to help share the costs of DAS installations, particularly in the case of neutral hosts systems. But the economics on a model of this nature only work in stadiums, venues and buildings generally over one million square feet. While the demand for data is also beginning to get the attention of the owners of medium and small buildings, a viable single financial model has not yet evolved far enough to allow scale deployment to the levels we hoped.

Additionally, Wi-Fi calling and the combination of small cells with Wi-Fi are changing the landscape. Wi-Fi systems that can be self-deployed by the customer could be packaged with traditional LTE service to increase bandwidth, particularly in small buildings like restaurants that thrive on the buzz of social media.

So, stadiums, arenas and large buildings are covered by DAS and Wi-Fi systems. Residences, and small buildings are being covered through a combination of the traditional, macro network, personal “Femto” cells and Wi-Fi. The biggest challenge/opportunity seems to remain the medium sized buildings (bigger than a restaurant but less than 1 million square feet), the area we assumed would cause the small cell revolution. This is where creativity is needed to develop new economic models to fund deployment.

  • Will operators begin to increase funding for large volumes of small cell deployments?
  • Will independent third parties fund small cell deployments much like they currently do many traditional DAS networks?
  • Will building owners fund deployments (or at least offset the cost)?
  • Will tenants that rent office space in these middle ground buildings begin to self-deploy Wi-Fi and LTE small cells?
  • Will OEMs seek new ways to finance design and installation costs to move their cool new systems from R&D to ceiling tiles??
  • Will more creative approaches to deployment evolve?

The short answer is yes to all of the above!

To quote the English proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The exponential increase in the demand for data is driving the necessity for new creative deployment models. New models will be invented. I speculate that one or two of the best are yet to come and that no single one will be the silver bullet we all hoped for.

Or said another way, the HetNet will require a Heterogeneous Deployment model – HetDep!


old phone


Do you still memorize important phone numbers?

Personally I know my cell phone number, my wife’s, and maybe one or two others. Oh yeah, I still know the number to the rotary phone mounted on the kitchen wall of my childhood home because I was taught to sing it in kindergarten in case I ever got lost. Speaking of which, my mom had a really, really, long cord on that phone so it could stretch out of the kitchen to the couch in the adjoining room where we had a TV with only three channels.

I would venture to guess that today most people don’t memorize many more phone numbers than I have. Why should we? We have various forms of one-touch dialing and even voice dialing to eliminate the need.

But, at the risk of sounding like Lemony Snicket, what would happen if there were an emergency or you lost your phone? Well, according to Connie Rim, a Lease Consultant at Md7 in San Diego, you might have a problem. As she tells it…

Years ago I moved to Las Vegas to live with some friends. Upon immediate arrival, I decided to venture solo to the Las Vegas strip. As I returned to my car, I realized I lost my iPhone. I panicked as I suddenly found myself without knowing my friends’ phone numbers, directions, or my new address. All the information I needed was in my Smartphone. After several hours of backtracking (and very sore feet), I was very lucky that someone had turned in my iPhone to one of the casino’s security offices.  Needless to say, I avoid being in such a vulnerable position by simply memorizing a few important phone numbers – and, of course, my address.

iCloud wasn’t around then, but if it happens to Connie today, she can simply log into her account from any computer in the world and pull up her key info. Tip: Make sure you know how to access your backup data before you need it.

In emergency situations, finding a place to access your iCloud account is not always easy or timely. Like the time my wife locked her keys, phone and our newborn son in the car at the park. She borrowed the phone of a jogger who was passing by and began dialing me the old fashion way. The only problem was that I didn’t recognize the jogger’s number in my caller-ID so I ignored it until she dialed it four or five times over and over.

Well… even if we fail to memorize a few key numbers, our modern problems are still better than only having a single phone for a family with five kids that was affixed to a wall.

Md7 is Built for the Current Data Explosion


When Md7 was formed in 2003, the company had one asset – Michael Gianni’s monochrome BlackBerry. We may have had a couple of laptops too, but it wasn’t Michael’s hardware that was valuable, it was his contacts from many years in the industry that he stored in that (at the time) high-tech phone.

Michael used that phone to call a lot of people to talk to them about the future of the wireless industry and seek out ideas that could become the core of a future business. As he reached out to his wireless friends and acquaintances he began to hear two common themes emerge.

  1. OpEx was becoming just as important as CapEx as wireless executives were beginning to forecast the decline in explosive subscriber growth.  It was Business 101 – the wireless industry would eventually flatten out as subscriber growth approached 100% penetration.
  2. Rent rolls for cell sites was going to become an increasing area of concern for operators. This was also Business 101 – if revenue growth flattens, operating margins become more crucial. And after payroll and backhaul, rent rolls were the largest OpEx line item in the network.

In 2004, Md7 got the opportunity to address these two issues when AT&T Wireless merged with Cingular. The new company had thousands of overlapping sites and we were contracted to renegotiate literally thousands of cell site leases. With private landlords located throughout the U.S., we simply could not follow the traditional site acquisition negotiation model of scheduling face-to-face meetings. So, we decided to handle everything over the phone. We had a lot of doubters because pretty much no one believed you could negotiate leases over the phone. But within days, the response to our efforts was so overwhelmingly successful that we kept maxing out our voicemail storage. We knew we were on to something.

With the subsequent Sprint and Nextel merger, we got a second bite of the apple. In 2005 and 2006, we began to refine our internal tracking software (which would eventually develop into the LiveTrack™ system) to enable us to manage literally thousands of negotiations from our central office in San Diego. We learned that a single negotiator could easily track and manage 150 negotiations and we began to truly master high-volume lease negotiations.

Oh yeah, and we were pretty good at keeping the rents down too.


After our early days in lease optimization, we transitioned into site upgrade amendments. The LTE growth boom had arrived and Md7 was ready for it. We proved that our newly developed processes and techniques, combined with well-trained lease negotiators, resulted in a better way to negotiate not just lease optimizations, but all cell site leases. We called this model “centralized leasing.”

By that time, Md7 had grown quite a bit. We traveled the country evangelizing the benefits of centralized leasing. Michael and Mark Christenson even took the message to Europe. But as any seasoned evangelist knows, not everyone believes the news is good – some do, some don’t. And no matter how much you believe it, not everyone will convert. Some people did, risking scrutiny within their own organizations to take a chance on Md7. Others politely passed on the idea.

Throughout the LTE build-out years, Md7 negotiated tens of thousands of lease amendments, including with private landlords, as well as processed site upgrade applications with each of the major tower companies. We showed that leasing can be scaled.

Md7 is now also scaling zoning and permitting services and all other site acquisition related services as well. We have discovered the balance between streamlining for large volume and utilizing a few people in the local market as needed (to maintain the local touch when needed, identify candidates and prepare SCIPS, close the final details with a local landlord, attend a hearing, or meet with municipal officials to get that final approval).


A funny thing happened recently. I noticed that our phones are now ringing more than we have to dial out. Maybe all those frequent flier miles we earned meeting with our customers around the world is starting to pay off.

We have all seen the forecasts for exponential growth in the demand for wireless data. We all know that with that exponential growth comes a need for a new deployment model. Whether indoor or outdoor, macro or micro, we need to scale our ability to acquire and manage wireless real estate like nothing we have ever seen before.

The sheer volume of small cells being deployed over the next three to five years in order to meet capacity demand has created a new reality and carriers can’t use the same financial and deployment models for indoor and outdoor small cells that they’ve traditionally used with macro sites. They’re going to have to keep costs down and move faster. And all this work on small cells has to be performed in addition to growing the macro network.

The wireless infrastructure industry is going to be strong for the foreseeable future, but it is also going to have to be more creative than ever before.

Md7 has long grown past that initial, single, valuable BlackBerry in Michael Gianni’s pocket. Currently, the Md7 team is working for 25 different operators, across 4 continents, in 10 different languages, within 13 different countries. We now have lots of great employees, with their own list of contacts in their own iPhones and Galaxies — we even have one, hard-core loyal BlackBerry user.

The Md7 team is very excited about the current explosion in wireless infrastructure and is extremely confident that we are ready for the challenge.

The Densification of America


If most people were to hear the term densification, they would probably assume one was referring in some manner or another to the growth (maybe even a plight) of population in urban areas. But if you work in the wireless infrastructure arena, the term densification refers to the rapid increase in the density of cell sites to accommodate the need for additional capacity.

The industry is abuzz about the need to increase the number of cell sites to keep up with the demand for capacity. In reality, we have been enhancing existing networks for quite a while – through cell splitting and building fill‑in sites – we are just doing it now at an unprecedented pace and with the addition of new technology (i.e., small cells and DAS).

The frenzy behind densification is being driven by the forecasts for exponential growth in wireless data traffic over the next few years. Some of my favorite statistics are published online by Cisco. A few notable ones are:

  • By the end of 2014, there will be more mobile devices than there are people on Earth. Thus, we will have reached 100% global penetration.
  • Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will exceed traffic from wired devices by 2018.
  • Over two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2018. Mobile video will increase 14 times between 2013 and 2018, accounting for 69% of total mobile data traffic.

This 69% comes from things such as: consumers demand a highly customized video experience on demand, 24/7, in real time; Facebook now auto-starts videos in your news feed; and we are fascinated by videos of celebrities and friends dumping ice buckets on their heads (but that’s for charity and so it’s okay).

For the first time, the industry is behind in meeting consumer demand. And, as we all know, we cannot wait for new spectrum to solve this dilemma. So, we must enhance the network in more creative ways than we ever imagined and at a pace that is faster than we ever dreamed possible. Oh yeah, and we have to do it cheaper than ever, because now that we are at 100% global penetration there aren’t that many people to sell new mobile plans to.

The wireless infrastructure industry will thrive and keep many of us employed for the next 3-5 years. But we will need completely new processes, tools and cost models to keep up. Time to be creative!

Why I Never Tell Lawyer Jokes

I never tell lawyer jokes.

While I would not describe myself as politically correct and I actually do find many lawyer jokes quite funny, my experience with lawyers in our industry is simply too valuable to make light of them. Not to mention the fact that I may find the butt of one of my jokes opposing me in a courtroom one day and I don’t want them to have any additional motivation to defeat me.

I hold lawyers in high regard because early in my career two lawyers from the Washington DC area that worked in wireless industry had a big influence on me – Caroline Kahl and David Lafuria. At the time, Caroline was the Vice President and General Counsel for Columbia Spectrum Management, the company that allowed me to break into the wireless industry after the PCS auction in 1995. Caroline taught me the significance of reading EVERY WORD of the microwave relocation contracts I was negotiating to clear the 1900MHz spectrum for the new auction winners. She was certainly a good enough attorney that I could have gotten away with letting her worry about the legal details after I negotiated the business terms, but she taught me that by fully understanding every word of the contract I became a much better negotiator. A couple of years later, David, who was and still is a Partner at Lukas, Nace, Gutierrez and Sachs helped me put together some ironclad buy-sell agreements and leases for towers that easily stood the test of time and an unexpected legal challenge. I remember reviewing some year-end financials in the late 1990’s and realizing how much we had paid David’s firm. I did not hesitate to acknowledge the amount we paid was far less than how much his strong agreements saved us in the end.

In early 2005 Md7 was transitioning out of start-up mode with our first big opportunity to negotiate some lease amendments and I put together the initial version of the Md7 training manual for the first thirteen Lease Consultants (LCs) we hired. While much of that training manual has evolved over time, one piece is basically the same as I wrote in January of 2005 – what we call at Md7 “Four Cornering a Lease”.

Technically speaking, Black’s Law Dictionary defines Four Corners as follows.

The face of a written instrument. That which is contained on the face of a deed (without any aid from the knowledge of the circumstances under which it is made) is said to be within its four corners, because every deed Is still supposed to be written on one entire skin, and so to have but four corners. To look at the four corners of an instrument is to examine the whole of it, so as to construe it as a whole, without reference to any one part more than another.

In the Md7 training manual, we say that the Four Corners Rule means

In contract law, the four corners rule is the doctrine that the meaning of a document is to be gathered from the entire (or all four corners of the) document. This includes all Exhibits, Addendums, Attachments, as well as all amendments.

We want our Md7 LCs to not only limit their understanding of a given lease to the contents of the document only, but we also want each one to understand that they must read and understand the lease in its entirety including exhibits, and amendments. NO EXCEPTIONS. Caroline Kahl taught me how to appreciate every word of a microwave relocation agreement, and I hope that I am passing along this appreciation to each LC at Md7.

But let’s be realistic. Md7 processes literally hundreds of lease agreements and amendments each month. It is not possible for every LC to read every word of every lease of each deal they negotiate. Over the last ten years, Md7 has refined a handful of technics that we systemically implement to allow each lease consultant to negotiate in volume without sacrificing the contractual quality of each deal.

1. Negotiate in general terms, then iron-out the details. While every LC has access to electronic copies of all relevant documents at his or her finger tips, you can’t ask someone to “please hold” while you read the entire lease agreement so you can discus a clients desire to modify the site. Thus we train our LCs work in general terms first, explain to the landlord what we are trying to in broad terms, thereby seeking to obtain an initial buy-in, then follow-up a later date (after having thoroughly familiarized themselves with the existing documents) to negotiate the final details.
2. Train and retrain on the key clauses in lease agreements. Most lease negotiations do not require a haggling over every word. Md7 trains each LC multiple times on the key paragraphs such as term, rent, rent escalations (an often ignored clause that often comes back to bite our clients down the road), use rights, premises definitions, upgrade rights and other key clauses that can save our clients tens-of-thousands (often even hundreds-of-thousands) of dollars over the life of a single lease.
3. Rigorous use templates. At the beginning of each new project Md7 works with a client to develop a lease template (as many in our industry do), but we actually load this document into LiveTrack (our proprietary software system) and lock it down so that only our legal team acting with client approval can make significant changes to the template. We then rigorously train and retrain our LCs and LPs (Lease Processors) on that specific template for the life of a given project. We also train our team to negotiate very hard to keep all deals “within the box” of that template so that we limit the amount of time needed by our counsel (and our clients counsel) to review and approve deals that fall outside of the template and pre-approved business parameters.
4. Rigorous oversight by our business and legal team. – Once a deal with Landlord is reached, it goes through an Md7 internal quality check process. All modifications to program template documents are reviewed by a lease processing manager to confirm such variations are strictly necessary. The LC must provide justification for any variations. Additionally, any additional language requested by a Landlord is reviewed by our legal department to ensure there is no other alternative available to satisfy the Landlord’s stated concerns. To the extent that non-standard language is required to close the deal, Md7 will work with the carrier’s counsel to obtain the necessary legal approvals. Throughout this process, wherever approval of non-standard language or business terms are required, Md7 documents the negotiations so that carrier has complete visibility into the negotiation process.
5. Use incentives to motivate LCs to keep deals “in-the-box” – One of the keys to Md7’s success over the last ten years has been incentive based pay. Our LCs are financially rewarded for keeping a deal within preapproved business parameters and all terms on the preapproved template document. You’d be surprised how well this works to limit unnecessarily high rent and lease terms that can significantly impact an operator long after the new or upgraded site is deployed.
6. Be smart – LCs at Md7 are well trained, and they know it. They are trained on the lease documents, the equipment being installed at a site, the industry, cell site economics and our software to track each of their deals. Md7 LCs do not read from scripts. They have been trained to master the key elements of their job and are comfortable negotiating the key clauses and business terms for each specific project they are assigned. They are confident in their ability because they have been recruited and trained specifically for their position.

At the conclusion of every training session on “Four Cornering a Lease” I ask our LCs and LPs-in-training to summarize the two-day training in one phrase. As you can imagine, initially I get a variety of answers such as:

• “Read every word, every time!”
• “Don’t try to BS your way through a negotiation”
• “Take your time because each deal is important”
• “If you don’t understand something in a lease, ask for help”

Typically, after three or four guesses, one of the trainees gives me the answer I am trying to draw out of them:

“Respect the Lease.”

That’s right… “Respect the Lease.” Each LC and LP at Md7 is trained to give each cell site lease agreement or amendment that he or she negotiates and/or processes its due respect to ensure a consistent, quality document that our clients can rely on for the long-term.

This training has been a standard practice at Md7 since February 2005 and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

The Google Self-Driving Car Will Increase Demand for Bandwidth (and Increase my Waistline)

My old college roommate used to say, “if you want a sure winner, buy shares of Taco Bell, because Tommy eats there so much the profits are going through the roof.” It’s true; even now I still love Taco Bell! But a desire to try to maintain a healthier lifestyle than I did in college is only the second biggest reason why my consumption of Combo #1 with a Diet Pepsi has decreased. The biggest reason is that it is too hard to eat a Burrito Supreme and a Crunchy Taco Supreme while driving. No matter how careful I am I end up with sour cream, beans and grease stains on my shirt.

But those stains may soon be a thing of the past because we are probably living within a generation of the Google Self-Driving Car becoming mainstream. And when it is mainstream, I can eat all the Americanized Mexican food I want in my best suit and tie without any worries.

If you are skeptical, then watch this video of a man living his daily routine in a driver-less Prius. Pretty cool stuff!

Now, even I can only eat so many burritos and tacos in a given day. So what will I do with the rest of my time in my self-driving car on my daily commute?   That’s easy, I’ll do the same thing I do with the rest of my idle time – play with my iPhone!

There is a big need for the wireless industry to increase capacity in areas where data growth is driving the demand for bandwidth. The current thought is that smart-phone users eat up the greatest amount of bandwidth while stationary – at home, the office, coffee shops, airports, tourist areas, etc. Simply put, it is not a good idea to stream an episode of Game of Thrones while driving. But my son streams Sponge Bob Square Pants while my wife or I am driving. Take a minute to ponder how the need for wireless infrastructure will evolve if we all start streaming video and posting narcissistic comments and photos about ourselves while being driverless-chauffeured to and from work like a four-year old boy on his way to and from preschool.

Data demand (and subsequently bandwidth) will be needed along every road, not just in places where we are stationary.

That is a lot of cell sites! Better make sure your site acquisition partner is a good one.


Cell Sites: Coverage vs. Capacity

I have heard quite a few people complaining lately about their cellular coverage.  Some claim it has gotten worse.  While that is actually possible, it is probably unlikely.  While I am not a Radio Frequency (RF) engineer, I would argue that the problem is not an issue of coverage, but rather capacity.

What’s the Difference?

In a cellular network, coverage refers to the amount of area or land that a signal from a cellular network reaches.  Every carrier offers “coverage maps online or in their retail stores and you see the vast majority of the United States colored to reflect the carrier’s service area.  On the other hand, capacity refers to the amount of bandwidth for a cellular network within that service area.

Think of it is simple, hypothetical terms.  One cell site on top of the Empire State Building turned up to full power would radiate a signal covering most, if not all, of Manhattan.  But that does not mean that every person walking on the streets in NYC will be able to get a call through that single cell site. Instead, RF engineers design wireless networks with multiple cell sites at heights much lower than the top of the Empire State building so that each unique site covers a smaller area, thereby increasing the chances for each individual user to have his/her call go through.

So why does it seem like I drop more calls?

I don’t know if you are actually dropping more calls or not.  There is a reasonable claim that we have become more dependent on our cell phones thus we are less patient when calls are interrupted or fail to go through, thus we complain more. But we are definitely experiencing a capacity problem in modern cellular networks.  With the advent of more and more powerful smart phones we are not only using them to talk but to also download and upload music, video, photos as well as web surfing.  Thus each cell site must not only process voice, but also data – LOTS OF DATA! This is stressing the capacity of each cell site and thus the cellular network as a whole.  More cell sites are continually being built to increase capacity.

In short, future cellular networks will need thousands more small cell sites (called microcells and picocells) much lower to the grounds to manage our data crazy smart phones.  More to follow…


I love my Dongle!

Dongle.  It is a funny little word that is difficult to say out loud without cracking a smile – try it. 

If you want to see a few videos of people having fun with the word “dongle” click here, here or here.  If you do not know what a dongle is then click here – don’t worry, it is safe. 

I recently purchased my first dongle from Verizon Wireless and it has my attention.  It is a 4G LTE dongle manufactured by LG and I love it!  Verizon is claiming data speeds of 5-12mbps on the downlink and 2-5mbps on the uplink.  Actually I have no idea what that means, but I will say that I cannot tell the difference between it and the wired network in my office.  That is fast enough for me.  My dongle will not be the last 4G LTE device that I purchase – I can’t wait for a phone, tablet, or the numerous embedded devices that this is sure to lead to in a 4G world.

The monthly cost of my dongle is about the same as Wi-Fi in a hotel room for a few nights a month and it is much more portable.  In addition to hotel rooms, I use it in coffee shops, airports, client offices, and I even used it to send three large .pptx files on a Southwest flight where I stopped but did not change planes – the “in-flight Wi-Fi” was too slow for those files.  Previously those .pptx files would not have been received by my client until I got to my hotel that night well after the close of business. 

The 4G dongle is the next step in a smaller, faster, fully connected, wireless world. In short, it has shown me that 4G will be a major game changer for wireless industry.

Verizon iPhone has sparked the public race for “4G”

After all the speculation, all the anticipation, it is official – Verizon has begun selling the CDMA iPhone.  While I am a loyal Blackberry guy with no intention of switching, I must admit I am excited about the announcement.  You see, if you listened closely around the time of the announcement, you may have heard the shot fired from the starting gun for the race for the next generation of wireless coverage.  Actually it started long before that in the “war rooms” of each of the nationwide cellular operators but now the race is being run in public view – just watch one NFL football game for the ads they are running.

What is generally being marketed as “4G” will bring with it a massive expansion in the cellular networks – the largest infrastructure boom in the wireless industry since 1996 when the FCC auctioned off the PCS licenses releasing a lot of spectrum and networks began to upgrade from analogue to digital.  There is speculation that some iPhone users will jump from AT&T to Verizon because of the frustrations they experienced with AT&T coverage (actually it was a capacity problem, not a coverage problem). And some will wait to see if Verizon is prepared.  Regardless of your expectations or loyalties to one operator or another, one thing is sure – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all are in the process of upgrading their respective networks.  And, these upgrades will have two large impacts on their respective networks. 

First, each network will be substantially faster.  WiMAX, LTE, and HSPA+, will take each system to another level and that is great for consumers.  Whether you use the iPhone, Blackberry or Droid you are about to see an increase in speed which will in turn facilitate an explosion of even cooler apps and eventually machine-to-machine communication.

Second, the number of cell sites are about to significantly increase.  At first they will be overlaid on top of already existing sites and tower companies will see a big early bump in leasing revenue.  This initial overlay will establish 4G coverage nationwide.  But then the number of smartphones will quickly increase and so will consumers data usage and these initial sites will not offer adequate capacity because you can’t shove ten pounds of data through a five pound cell site.  While they can’t build ten pound cell sites, they can build two five pound sites.  Or go even further to manage capacity by building ten one-pound sites – one on every street corner and cul-de-sac.  All this because our appetite for data is about explode!!!

Cell Site Leases in the Future

Cellular history

I remember the first time I saw a mobile phone.  It was circa 1987 and it belonged to a sports agent that was visiting a couple of friends of mine who happened to be college athletes.  I drove them to the airport in my Honda Prelude to pick him up for lunch.  As he stepped off the private plane into my back seat I remember asking him “why he had two brief cases?”  He replied “oh no, the second one is my phone.”  At that moment I knew my buddies were going to sign with him – some guys just can’t resist a big battery. 

The cellular industry has come a long way since then.  The briefcase phone became the bag phone which evolved into the brick phone, then the flip-phone, the camera phone and now the smart-phone. Just as the handset has evolved so has the network – from analog to digital to 2.5G, to 3G…  And cell sites have evolved too.  From the first one at Soldier Field in Chicago and remote mountain top sites, to tall towers and the tallest building in town, to monopoles and lower roof-tops to light poles.  Shelters at cell sites have become cabinets and even suit-cased sized boxes. 

Cellular Future

If we look forward we will see that the iPhone is just the beginning.  The embedded wireless device is about to change it all again.  We are rapidly approaching a world where we’ll have hidden wireless devices inside everyday items such as HVAC, appliances, medical devices, even our dogs.  Farmers will remotely control their irrigation systems with apps on the smartphones, heart-monitors will notify you and your doctor before your heart fails.  Disposable, one-use-only devices will automatically reorder household items when packages are empty.  We are limited only by our own creativity.

But this post-modern technology won’t run on the current networks.  4G networks and beyond require more cell-splitting and lower rad centers. Cabinets and boxes are becoming remote radio heads.  And, while we will still have a lot of towers in rural and sub-urban areas, DAS and picocells on the side of buildings and light poles will sustain capacity in urban and dense urban markets. 

What about cell site leases?

You can’t have a technological explosion like this without updating the underlying cell site leases as well.  We are already seeing a large jump in the number of modifications to existing sites – many of which require amendments to the underlying leases.  These requests are coming at a more rapid pace than we have ever seen.  And the number of cell sites – particularly in urban areas – is about to significantly increase.

Let’s be smart about how we negotiate new and amended lease documents!  These deals need to be flexible and cost effective to sustain this rapid growth.  Expansion and modification rights must be ongoing, rents must be manageable for the long haul.  And cellular operators should rethink how they manage their massive real estate portfolios.  As we enter into the age of outsourced network administration, lease administration is a non-core function that should optimized too.

In short, as we approach 2011, let’s keep up with the times and rethink how cell site leases are negotiated and managed.

The Impact of 4G (on Cell Sites)

This past week I attended the CommNexus presentation called The Road to Long Term Evolution (LTE): The Next Generation of Wireless Technology featuring Tami Erwin, President – West Area for Verizon Wireless. And this coming week I am attending the Wireless Infrastructure Show which was recently previewed by FierceWireless as “The opportunity and costs of 4G.” I put these two events on my calendar to broaden my perspective on the impact that 4G will have on cell sites. And while I have only attended the first of the two, I am already pretty excited about the future of wireless and more specifically – cell site leasing.

From the CommNexus event, I learned two things.

1. LTE will revolutionize the industry. Ms Erwin convinced me that LTE will be much more dynamic than anything we are currently experiencing. While she openly acknowledged that the iPhone was a “game changer,” she also pointed out that LTE will go further – much further. This was not a dis on the iPhone, but rather an attempt to show the limitless options before us in a 4G world. A world where machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless will connect everyone and everything. Check-out this video by Alcatel-Lucent that she shared with us.

2. The impact of 4G has not yet been clearly defined. Verizon plans to allow their subscribers to define how LTE evolves rather than attempt to define it themselves. They do not want to limit the impact of LTE by attempting to define it or set an expectation. They are merely building a network that will facilitate it. I’d give that a “thumbs-up” on Facebook!

I anticipate that 4G will change how we communicate much more than analog-to-digital conversions, 2.5G and 3G. But what about the Opinion Pole’s specific niche – what about 4G’s impact on cell sites and cellular antenna leases? As stated in prior blogs, we already know it will significantly increase the number of cell sites, it will lower the average rad center for cell sites, it will increase the number of micro/picocells, it will cause RF engineers to look for ways to off-load traffic to Wi-Fi as often as possible, and it will cause the cellular carriers to evolve into a “dumb pipe.” It will also drive C-Suite executives to focus on OPEX over CAPEX. And all of these things will impact cell site rents.

However, I am anticipating learning much more this week at the Wireless Infrastructure Show. Stay tuned!

Multiple Candidates = Better Cell Site Leases

From coast to coast, from Canada to Mexico and everywhere in between there is a real estate principle that always applies. You get a better deal if you have two or more properties to choose between. You always get a better deal if you play two owners against each other. This is obvious right?

There is no way I am going to out-negotiate a car salesman because I do not have subject matter expertise. So when I buy a new car, I go to two or three dealerships and play them against each other – in the end the best price wins. You have to create a competitive situation.

This principle holds true for wireless real estate as well. I have negotiated a lease for a cell site covering Wall Street, and a microwave tower in Screw Bean Draw, Texas (yes that is a real place – it is about six miles west of Orla). And I have negotiated for just about every type of property you can think of in between those two. I have been told so many times that if you want the best deal you have to be “a local” (from NYC or SBD) and that if you are not “a local” then you need to hire someone who is from there to negotiate for you. That simply isn’t true. If the landlord wants the monthly rental income, and you treat them with respect, then they’ll negotiate with you no matter how fast or slow you talk. And if you tell them you are choosing between two or more sites you have negotiating leverage.

I had to lower the rent on my rental properties in Florida because there was a glut of vacant condos on the beach four blocks away and my tenants had options – they didn’t want to move, but they certainly had an opportunity to do so and I had to lower my rent to keep them. I have been on both sides of a negotiation where a tenant had legitimate options and it always works to lower the rent.

When negotiating a lease for a new cell site anywhere in the USA, (despite the fact that RF engineers have the option to trump one candidate over another) you will do well to have more than one candidate. Finding alternatives changes the dynamics of a negotiation.

Quote of the Month – Coverage vs Capacity – 4G Cell Sites

Quick shout-out to Phil Goldstein for his article posted here today on FierceWireless.  Here is an excellent quote from it. 

Coverage vs. capacity: Cisco’s Visual Networking Index predicted earlier this year that mobile data traffic will increase 39 times between 2009 and 2014. To meet that demand, Clearwire CTO John Saw said there needs to be an industry-wide paradigm shift away from coverage and toward capacity. “Our cell sites are not able to meet the needs when we become a capacity-driven business and not a coverage-driven business,” he said referring to the broader industry. “Is it time to move up.”

Tower companies, Saw said, need to think less about macro sites and more about micro sites, picocells, distributed antenna systems and rooftop deployments for urban areas.”

The Best Cell Site in Town

The best location for a cellular antenna isn’t always where you think it will be – especially in a rapidly evolving wireless network.

A lot of cell site landlords claim they have “the best site in town” to locate a cellular antenna. Whether it is the lone tower in a small town, the tallest building off town square, the mountain top with the longest line-of-site, or the office building on the corner of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills – many claim their site is unique and best. However this is often not the case – especially as cellular networks become more sophisticated.

As wireless telecommunications technology evolves from 3G to 4G and beyond, so does the definition of “the best site in town.” As I mentioned in a prior article in AGL magazine, (What is the Market Price for Cell Site Rent?) contrary to popular belief, the Empire State Building does not offer the best coverage in Manhattan. One high site can’t handle the millions of calls made each day in New York, nor can it accommodate the bandwidth needed to run voice communication, video, email, music, photo transfers, download apps and more. In other words, taller is no longer better. Today’s network relies on a greater number of low elevation sites to accommodate the growing number of users and the bigger bandwidth requirements necessary to meet technology demands.

Landlords often think that their site is more valuable because it is in a high-traffic area, or it’s the tallest, or it’s centrally located. As noted above, advances in technology are redefining what makes a good cell site. But further, as cell sites come closer to the ground and closer to each other, carriers are less particular about their location. This flexibility, combined with an increasing ability to use non-typical cell sites (such as light poles), creates a competitive environment that drives cell site rents down. The landlord who once had “the best site in town” must now acknowledge that carriers have many viable options to choose from.

“Dumb Pipes” Lower Average Rent For Cell Sites

The wireless “dumb pipe” is inevitable.  The iPhone is certainly accelerating its arrival and it is just a matter of time.  The entire strategy of new wireless entrant LightSquared is to be a wholesale dumb pipe. While many believe that the Verizon network is a competitive differentiator, even it is evolving into a commodity. And in a commoditized market, the low cost provider wins.

It is simple business school math. If all wireless networks have relatively comparable coverage that simply transfer bytes back and forth between a handset and the internet then the only differentiators are the handsets themselves and the price for access to the system. While the buzz on the FCC investigation into handset exclusivity has cooled for the time being, price competition is hotter than ever. And price competition means each cellular operator must get more aggressive on cost cutting or their margins will suffer and they will get priced out of the game.

One of the largest items in a cellular operator’s OPEX is the rent roll for tens-of-thousands of cell sites around the country. The largest operators have an estimated seventy-thousand cell sites at an average of $1,700 per month. With built-in rent escalators averaging between three and four percent per year it won’t be long before nation-wide cellular rent rolls top $1.5 billion annually. But wait, it will grow beyond that! The high-tech wireless dumb pipes are actually 4G LTE and WiMAX networks built on top of already existing cellular networks. It is reasonable to expect the number of cell sites in the United States to double or even triple over the next five to ten years.

That’s good news if you own the only zoned and permitted cell tower in Middle America and the mayor is your brother-in-law. But what about more congested areas where traditional roof-top sites and micro/pico cells can be flexibly placed in more than one location? In that scenario cellular operators have options.

With OPEX pressure, any prudent wireless CFO will be looking to lower average rents on their rapidly expanding portfolio of cellular real estate and you can expect that pressure to trickle down to lease negotiators. And those lease negotiators will be more closely weighing their options when negotiating new cell site leases. Expect that trickle down pressure to impact the average rent on new leases.

Extreme Service

Bending Over Backwards For Our Customers.

The mobile industry is tough. With only a handful of carriers each trying to parlay new customers out of a saturated and demanding marketplace, the business climate is competitive to say the least.  Wireless customers want cooler smart phones, more apps, more speed, more bandwidth, fewer dropped calls and they want it all for a lower monthly price. Being successful in this kind of environment requires extraordinary effort. So servicing this kind of a client can be a daunting task for the team at Md7 as we work with carriers to help them effectively manage their very large portfolios of wireless real estate in a way that’s never been done before.

When you’re helping people change the way they do business, customer satisfaction is no longer enough. A company must engender customer loyalty to make a difference. It’s not about responding to client needs, but anticipating them and then fixing any problems you encounter along the way. In short, it’s about giving a client more than they expect. In the end, a good deal or great results isn’t enough. At Md7, we call this “extreme service.”

A recent article “How Amazon Aims to Keep You Clicking” in BusinessWeek reminded me that it’s exactly this level of “extreme service” that distinguishes a company. BusinessWeek named Amazon #1 in this endeavor because of their overwhelming success in establishing trust with their customers who purchase products sight unseen. Because what we do is relatively new in the industry, Md7 works to earn this same level of confidence with our own clients by providing extreme service.

A comment we recently received from a client let us know we’re on the right track. He said, “I’ve never worked with a crew as fast as you folks at Md7…I feel like I’m sitting in a busy restaurant but I’ve got 10 waiters all focused on me.”

Whether it’s a cup of coffee or a 10-course meal, we want all our clients to feel just like this. It’s part of our core values and we intend to live up to it every time we gather around the table.

Rembrandt: The Descent from the Cross – Second Plate

Referred to as the “second plate” because as Rembrandt scholar Christopher White states, “it was, however, on this plate that he met his one and only technical disaster in a medium in which he was to become supreme master.” On Rembrandt’s first attempt the acid failed to properly bite the plate.  After attempting to rework the plate it was eventually discarded.  On his second attempt Rembrandt created what may be his greatest etching. 

The large image (52.7 cm x 40.8 cm) depicts wealthy Joseph of Arimathea overseeing the removal of Christ’s lifeless body from the cross while onlookers observe in awe.  In this print the master illustrates one of the most powerful moments of the Bible with tremendous emotion. Rembrandt uses an amazing contrast of light and dark to illustrate heavenly beams shining upon Jesus, thus create a moving image. 

Created in 1633 the plate was signed and dated on the bottom, center below the print.

Is That Salsa On Your Steering Wheel?

Time for the Way Cellular Antenna Leases Are Negotiated to Change.

The way cellular antenna leases are identified and negotiated is out-dated and has changed little since the cellular phone industry’s explosive growth began in 1995. Md7 Chairman and CEO, Michael Gianni, describes the traditional site acquisition process as agents “parachuting in, grabbing a rental car and driving all over town leaning over the steering wheel while they eat a burrito and look up in the air for potential cell sites.” Those traditional site acquisition agents had no incentive to negotiate a good lease with low rents and solid contract language that lasted the life of a traditional cell site. The traditional cellular antenna lease was just another “pay-point” on a fixed fee services agreement. Agents not only negotiated the lease but had to battle municipal administrators for permits and zoning approvals and many other pay-points before their work was done and a new site could be constructed. They were given as many search rings as they could handle and paid to get leases signed as fast as possible – there were few if any incentives to keep the rent down and negotiate solid lease terms.

While this strategy worked well in the short-term – it enabled cellular operators to build networks as fast possible, this was a classic case of “if you want it bad, you get it bad.” If you are in a hurry and don’t take the time to negotiate a lease properly you will pay for it in the long run. Cellular phone operators are now paying the long term price. The national average for cell site rent is estimated to be around $1,750 per month. If this is accurate, then for every 50,000 cell sites, a carrier has an annual rent roll of approximately $1 billion. The largest cellular operators in the United States have an estimated 65-70,000 cell sites. Thus they are pushing $1.5B and it increases by 3% every year before they even build one new site.

Carriers used competition to beat the site acquisition pay-point as low as it can go. Site acquisition agents are now commoditized and many of the good ones have moved on (or cashed out). But the leases are no better; the starting rents are still too high and language still has to be amended each time a site is modified. With the advent of 4G, our industry will double and maybe even triple the number of cell sites in the United States. Time to change the way cell sites leases are negotiated.

The Wireless Tipping Point

Why Wireless Operators are Shifting Focus from Capex to Opex

In the book, Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell describes a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” The point where the sociological scale tips and “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.”  Gladwell gives interesting observations of how once unknown products and behaviors reach the “tipping point” and become wildly popular and eventually commonplace.  I argue that such a phenomenon will occur in the near future in the wireless industry.  No, I am not making some bold prediction but rather simply pointing out an obvious fact – with nearly everyone in possession of a cell phone, the cellular industry is nearing market saturation and is transitioning into the mature phase of the business life cycle. 

In the cellular industry, operators rapidly blew through the introduction phase and are deep into the growth phase where it has been for the last ten to fifteen years.  With the onset of the maturity phase, however, comes the cellular tipping point. 

Here’s Business 101. When companies reach the maturity phase of the business life cycle they attempt to prolong a product’s life span by stretching this phase for generations.  It is a business school fundamental that the best way to prolong this phase is to reinvent yourself as many times as possible and simultaneously optimize margins.  While struggling as of late, the auto industry is a classic example of success in this endeavor.  Each year they introduce new models of old cars aimed at getting consumers to trade-in for a new/improved version. But auto makers only paid attention to one side of the equation. It has been the mismanagement of opex over the last several decades that has caused American auto manufacturers to falter – they simply can’t compete with foreign manufactures that can produce an equal or better car with substantially lower labor costs per vehicle. 

Back to the cellular industry. Operators are making the same competitive adjustments to their products.  Each carrier is upgrading their networks to the next “G” in an effort to reinvent themselves faster than Madonna. They are introducing new über-cool handsets so quickly you’re in constant phone-envy and the end of your two-year contract comes slower than a child’s Christmas morning. 

But unlike the auto industry, don’t think operators are ignoring opex. FierceWireless recently published an article entitled, “Operators now playing the opex game”, which points out that mobile operators can no longer focus on subscriber acquisition to grow and that they are now focusing on opex in an attempt to manage margins. While I have been forecasting this phenomenon as “the perfect storm” ever since AGL published my first article, I want to declare again that the tipping point is very close.  Over the next twelve to twenty-four months I argue that key industry executives and Wall Street analysts will make the reduction of wireless opex such common speak that the masses will shift from focusing on capex and speed-to-market to scrutinizing operating margins.  Are you prepared for this tipping?

Blog claim 2X562XDF9FUB

Why Cellular Operators Are Building Smaller Cell Sites

Picocell in Beverly Hills

The most common thing I heard at the CTIA 2010 trade show this week at the Las Vegas Convention Center was that wireless operators will need more spectrum as they deploy WiMAX and LTE networks – generally marketed as 4G. This need was discussed twice within the opening hours of the show. First at the opening morning Raymond James Breakfast Roundtable which was part of the Tower Technology Summit co-located at CTIA and more notably in the opening key note address by Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. While earlier this month the FCC announced its plan to free up 500 MHz of spectrum in the next ten years, 300 MHz of which is expected within five years, the mobile operators can’t wait that long. New smartphones are fueling an insatiable consumer demand for applications that hog bandwidth, which in turn will require mobile operators to manage the spectrum they have more efficiently.

For me, this was the tone of this year’s trade show and thus raised the obvious question – what are carriers to do until they get the additional spectrum they need? Answer: Perform cell splits— decrease the cell radii and insert more cell sites to try to eek out more capacity with the limited spectrum they have. The simplified math works like this – you can have several users all downloading large amounts of data through one 4G cell site or you can break that site into multiple smaller cell sites to spread the consumer demand. By subdividing cell sites carriers can try to get more capacity out of their limited spectrum, at the risk of decreased efficiency and increased interference in the network.

These smaller cell sites are known as microcells, picocells and femtocells. Microcells usually have a cell radius of one mile or less. Picocells have a cell radius of a city block or less. The equipment for a picocell can be quite small, even deployed on light poles or street corners in dense, urban areas and are common in large public facilities like football stadiums, shopping centers, office buildings, airports, etc. And femtocells are typically private cell sites in a home or small office with four or less private users. Click here for a prior opinionpole.net blog on femtocells.

One thing is for sure, none of these three types of small cell sites are found on top of the typical cell tower. While there will always be a need for traditional cell towers, particularly for rural coverage, and high rooftop cell sites in urban areas, they are going to become less critical as network traffic begins to get off-loaded to these sites.

Ready, Set, Rent!

Coke Bottle AntennaSee Full Article in PDF
When the A/B Block PCS Auction ended in 1995 an unusual real estate phenomenon occurred. Cellular operators paid way too much to lease it. No, this wasn’t driven by low interest rates, the refi boom, Option ARMs or teaser rate mortgages. It was driven by a race for market share.

And, boy, was it a doozy. An analog-based industry had just gone digital. Wall Street was throwing money at this new enterprise as they were starting to inflate the dot-com bubble, and the FCC found a new revenue source for something they had previously given away for free. 

Before there was an auction for spectrum, the government had employed an inefficient lottery system to allocate spectrum. When the government realized that they could be the ones making money out of thin air (as economist Peter Cramton quipped after the first auction 15 years ago), the wheels were set in motion for a new industry dynamic that would profoundly affect future operating costs and the way carriers do business.

I know because I was there. I watched as players like WirelessCo, AT&T, PCS PrimeCo, Pacific Telesis, GTE, American Portable Telecommunications, Ameritech Wireless, Western PCS, Powertel PCS Partners and others together paid in excess of $7 billion for spectrum and then turned around and spent billions more to build their network — all before even selling their first PCS phone. They needed the frequency to build the network. They needed the network to sell the phones. They needed to sell the phones to appease the investors. The race was on.

Continue reading – full article in PDF

500 Percent Penetration

As published in AGL Magazine (December 2009)

In his address at the CTIA Wireless 2009 convention regarding the future of the wireless industry, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg made a compelling case that “500 percent penetration is not only possible, it’s probable. Imagine a day when you not only own a smart phone, but also a wireless card in your laptop, a service such as On-Star for your car, an Amazon Kindle that downloads books on Sprint’s cellular network, and a wireless MP3 player on which you can download music. Oh, wait! That day is already here. We even already have lifesaving devices such as wireless heart monitors that transmit your vital signs to your doctor before a heart attack occurs.

Actually, the advancements we will see in wireless health care go far beyond the medical e-records that President Obama promised as part of his push for health care reform. Donald Jones, an executive at Qualcomm and the chief wireless officer for the West Wireless Health Institute, told attendees at a recent CommNexus meeting in San Diego that we can expect to see the “Kindleization of healthcare.” Essentially, that means that not only will we have remote monitoring of all our medical conditions, but also we will even have wireless bandages, we’ll just push a wireless strip on the box when we are down to one bandage and a replacement box will be shipped to us. In other words, 4G is going to take wireless to an entirely new level. As Seidenberg pointed out, the day when cellular networks will not only connect people to other people, but also connect people to machines and machines to machines is upon us. And in our lifetime, we will see a house managed by wireless devices embedded in the HVAC, the oven and maybe even the toaster. So, it is not hard to imagine a world where each person has at least five wireless devices of some sort — thus, 500 percent penetration.

500 percent for cell sites

Multiple devices per user means more cell sites — lots more. No wireless operator will want to be the company that lost a connection just as grandma’s vitals were being transmitted to the doctor’s office. But, these newer cell sites will be much different from the sites built for traditional voice service. Cell sites for 1G and 2G networks were typically built for coverage, thus the tallest site available covered the greatest area. There weren’t as many subscribers, so capacity was not an issue. As penetration grew, however, fill-in sites with lower rad centers were built to increase the capacity of the network. As user needs develop and networks mature, RF designs tend to shift from coverage to capacity. Sites will be more subscriber focused, offering greater bandwidth, greater capacity and more flexibility. Currently, 3G and 4G technologies use various techniques to provide a tradeoff between capacity and range, so there are still a variety of high, low and in between sites. Technology has enabled carriers to increase the range of their sites by reducing the throughput of the devices. Technology combined with subscriber demand for faster data rates is necessitating the continuous building of more sites.

In other words, with only voice technology, you either had connectivity or you didn’t, and everyone within range of the mountaintop site had coverage. Now, as handsets evolve and subscribers expect greater data rates, sites are developed to support subscribers and are more capacity oriented. So, no single site is as important as it used to be. Although RF engineers avoid holes in coverage, the use of many more lower sites means smaller holes; thus, on average, individual sites are less critical. An analogy: If you have one car, it’s pretty valuable. Without it, you can’t go anywhere. However, if you have a fleet of hundreds of cars, any particular car isn’t as valuable because you have others that can temporarily take up the slack if necessary.

500 percent for tenants

Watching penetration climb past 100 percent (as it already has in many European cities) does not necessarily translate into a corresponding increase in average revenue per user (ARPU) for network operators. The $100 per month we pay for unlimited plans for our smart phones does not include the card for your laptop, which is a separate $60. Sprint doesn’t charge for the Kindle access — it is included in the purchase price of the device when you buy it from Amazon. com. Medical devices will most likely work the same way. Consumers won’t be willing to pay extra for the ability to reorder supplies — that is a cost that will have to be covered by the seller. Wireless carriers still have to figure out pricing schemes for embedded wireless. And while we wait for those pricing models to take shape, we can be sure that 500 percent penetration does not mean a 500 percent increase in revenue for carriers — and it never will.

In fact, for a multiple-device world to exist, devices and airtime must be cheaper — much cheaper. No one will pay $99.99 per month for a wireless link between their car and their microwave oven just to make sure their day-old pizza is warm precisely as they pull into the garage. It must be cost-effective to be attractive, and that means cell site tenants will continue to drive down costs to support their overall goal to reduce operating expenses to keep up with the cost of subscriber demands. And over time, the reality is that rent is the biggest carrier expense for a cell site.


500 percent for landlords

No one would question that needing more cell sites increases the demand for antenna locations, and that is good for landlords. But as previously mentioned, the new sites are different and more flexible. So don’t expect to see as many tenants begging for the same location. Just as the handset has evolved, so has the cell site and, thus, the cell site lease. Generally speaking, multiple, tall, rooftop sites have replaced the mountaintop site, and lower rooftop sites are replacing tall rooftop sites, and lightpoles and femtocells are replacing lower rooftop sites. If every house gets a femtocell, the tall tower is much less vital to the tenant. For a carrier, the big benefit of femtocells is that they improve coverage and capacity while reducing capital and operating expenses.

If the cell site network comes down to the level of one site per house, carriers are not going to pay $1,800 per month for that site. As a matter of fact, carriers are not willing to pay anything for a femtocell in your house — they actually charge for that.


So what?

As wireless innovation and growth become more deeply embedded in every facet of our daily lives, what does this mean for cell sites? Doesn’t rapid technological evolution mean the need for more sites, and won’t cell site owners expect t0 see more demand for access to their sites, thus increasing rents? Well, if all the new technologies operate on the exact same sites as existing equipment, yes. But that is not necessarily the case. There will be more telecommunications sites, no doubt about it, but the increased demand won’t necessarily be for the same types of sites. New sites will be smaller, with a lower rad center, and will require less square footage. For example, the equipment for a WiMAX network is much smaller than traditional cellular equipment, and a 4G network operator has much more flexibility about where that equipment is located. Thus, it is not reasonable to expect them to pay the same amount as a traditional voice carrier would pay to have its antennas 150 to 200 feet in the air. A 4G network operator’s antenna array is smaller and lighter, and the 4G base station is not much different in size from one of my wife’s suitcases.

The dynamics between cell site landlords and tenants are changing. Cellular operators are looking for long-term partnerships with their thousands of landlords. Landlords would do well to treat their tenants like partners and customers with a long-term view in mind — which is simply prudent business.

Cell Phones Are Like Hamburgers

CellburgerAs published in AGL (Aug 2009) – PDF of Full Article

Whether or not you are a McDonald’s restaurant fan, there is no denying that the foodservice retailer has one of the most successful business models ever conceived — and not for the reasons you think. When McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray Kroc asked a group of business students what business he was in and they replied “fast food,” he quickly corrected them and said, “No, I am in the real estate business.” Although McDonald’s Big Mac hamburgers may have been a tasty fast food novelty, it was Kroc’s well-selected real estate that actually sold burgers. But there is much more to that story.

In a similar manner, you could say that the operators of cellular networks are not in the “phone business” but in the real estate business. Without well-located cell sites, they would not have adequate coverage and thus could not sell much airtime no matter how cool the latest handset. Although well-managed real estate has proven to be the key to a successful business model, wireless network operators haven’t exactly followed Kroc’s path. Let’s take a look at the lessons operators could learn from hamburgers.

Kroc struggled to make money in what most consider to be his primary business, selling the method originated by brothers Dick and Maurice “Mac” McDonald for mass-producing hamburgers in less than a minute. Kroc credited Harry Sonneborn, a former vice president of finance at Tastee Freeze who became McDonald’s chief financial officer and later its president and chief executive officer, for McDonald’s “real moneymaking engine . . . its little-known real estate business,” wrote John F. Love in McDonald’s: Behind the Arches.

In 1955, Sonneborn suggested that McDonald’s should control the real estate used by franchisees, as the idea was described in Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time by Daniel Gross and the Forbes magazine staff. In 1956, Sonneborn helped Kroc create Franchise Realty. Through Franchise Realty, McDonald’s made money by “leasing or buying potential store sites and then subleasing them to franchisees, initially at 20 percent markup and then 40 percent markup,” the book said. Eventually, franchisees would “then pay McDonald’s either a minimum rate or a percentage of sales …and … the company would collect more and more rent as its costs remained constant.”

In the early days of McDonald’s growth, Kroc would fly over the growing suburbs looking for open land near a church steeple because he wanted to be where the people were. In the cellular phone industry, I am sure a site acquisition agent or two also have driven around looking for church steeples.

Besides the fact that cell phones don’t taste good even with cheese, the difference between the two industries is in those early days of rapid growth. Unlike Kroc, who flew the countryside looking for the best locations to lease to franchisees, tower site acquisition agents drove every back road and alley looking for the best coverage, as fast as they could. They weren’t focused on making a profit for their clients on the real estate itself. Most weren’t even given incentives to find the best deal, because signed leases were pay points on their service contracts, regardless of rent amounts. In the end, they were more interested just getting a site leased so the operator could offer coverage more quickly. But as they say, location, location, location is the key to real estate, and if the cellular operators weren’t going to watch the long-term dollars spent on those sites, someone else was. The two primary beneficiaries were the tower companies that started popping up nationwide and the thousands of real estate owners who just happened to own the tallest site in an area or the one at a critical roadway intersection. Because cellular operators were more focused on speed to market and coverage than they were on the price of real estate, debt was bound to fund tower development and building owners got insane deals for rents on what is, for the most part, unusable space — rooftops.

The hamburgers and cell phones comparison diverges further. There are far more cell sites offering coverage than there are McDonald’s locations offering hamburgers, and the operators built their networks as tenants rather than landlords.

This is the defining difference between cell phones and hamburgers. Kroc made more and more money from his real estate holdings as their leases transpired, but the cellular operators are experiencing ever-escalating rents costs and tighter margins. Over the long term, rent is by far the largest expense in operating a cell site. This is an expense operators didn’t pay much attention to when they were rapidly expanding networks and adding subscribers. Now they have no choice but to focus on it.

Think like Ray Kroc

Kroc followed Americans to the suburbs, and cellular network operators are following the world everywhere. There are more than 30,000 McDonald’s restaurant locations worldwide. That does not even begin to compare to the more than 242,000 cells sites nationwide, a number that will continue to grow exponentially during the next five years. And we are far more addicted to our phones than we are to our burgers — well, most of us, anyway. All this is said to make the point that operators of cellular networks would do well to think like Ray Kroc and take command of their real estate before the networks collapse because of untenable operating costs.

Ultimate competitor

Biographers describe Kroc as the ultimate competitor who was so ruthless that after buying the naming rights from the McDonald brothers for the outrageous price of $2.7 million, he opened a location one block from their original store just to drive them out of business. He was also obsessed with standards, such as his insistence that all potatoes be cut to exactly 9/32 of an inch to become a McDonald’s fry. Cellular network operators are obsessed with standards, too. They are constantly trying to “raise the bar” so you can “hear me now” when we “stick together” on the “now” network. But historically, they have not been competitive in the management of their real estate portfolios.

Real estate is the core asset for thousands of companies, and they manage it as such. With the exception of oil and gas exploration companies and railroads, rarely has a company had as large a real estate portfolio as cellular operators. From the beginning, the cellular network operators have focused on their “hamburgers” — that is to say, their technology — and have done a great job of it. But now they need to focus on their real estate assets either internally or through outsourcing, or their “hamburgers” won’t be worth a dime.

This realization is dawning on operators around the globe. I argue that President Obama is not the only change we will see in the next few years.

PDF of Full Article

What is the Market Price for Cell Site Rent?

As originally published in AGL (April 2009) – PDF of Full Article


Everyone wants to get paid what they’re worth.

Whether it’s based on principle or pride, it absolutely galls us when someone else gets a better deal, or we lose out to someone who undercuts our asking price. While we steadfastly hold something’s worth as an absolute, we have often come to this determination by a subjective, mind’s eye calculation of what is commonly referred to as “the going rate.”

For cell site landlords, the determination of worth goes something like this: “My buddy is making $1,650 a month on his cell site lease and my site is in a much better location than his so I should be getting $1,800.”

Landlords are often irked and even angered when they are told that’s not the rate that the tenant wants to pay. They think they’re getting gypped. They don’t understand why this tenant is not honoring the going rate. And therein lies the problem: never confuse the “going rate” with the “market rate.” The last house to sell on my street in San Diego almost a year ago has nothing to do with what a different buyer will pay for my house today.

The real market rate for cell site leases is not what another tenant paid down the street. In today’s business environment, it’s what the competing potential landlord across the street will accept. Thanks to carriers’ escalating operating costs, the public’s voracious appetite for new technology and the network’s evolving engineering requirements, cell site leasing has become a competitive marketplace. Let’s take a look at what landlords can do to protect their income. (Continue reading full article in PDF)

See full article in PDF

Rembrandt: 100 Guilder Print

Jesus Healing the Sick 100 Guilder Print

Most commonly known as the “100 Guilder Print” (c. 1649) and arguably one of Rembrandt’s most notable etchings, it is also referred to as “Jesus Healing the Sick” or “Christ Preaching” and occasionally “Jesus Calling the Little Children” (even though most in the print are not children). “100 guilder” is a reference to the story that Rembrandt paid 100 guilders, a large sum of money at that time, to buy back one of his own prints. According to a 2001 article in Forbes magazine, Rembrandt paid 9,000 guilders for his house in 1639.

The large (27.8cm x 38.8cm) and powerful image is an amalgamation of various stories from the Book of Matthew where we see Jesus addressing the Pharisees, healing the sick and caring for the poor, all with Peter closely observing.

Over 100 years after it was created, Irish art collector Captain William Baillie purchased and reworked the plate and sold several reworked images.  Baillie eventually cut the plate into four separate pieces in 1776 and sold the image in quarters, thus making original images from the plate as worked by Rembrandt substantial more valuable.  

Femtocells Are Not Just About Connectivity


I was pretty excited a few months ago when I bought a new Femtocell device from my cellular service provider. My wife and I had noticed that we had begun having problems connecting to the network and calls were dropping more frequently so I swallowed my pride and paid $250 solve my carrier’s coverage problem. I expected to get maximum “bars” in my house easily and seamlessly. But my experience was far from plug and play. Actually when I called the carriers help desk they said something to the effect of “oh it doesn’t work with data plans yet. You’ll need to turn off the data portion of your Blackberry each time you walk in the house.” I promptly packaged it back up and returned it to the retail store. I figured I’d wait a generation or two before trying it again. Maybe the price would come down in the meantime.

While I am still not ready to try again to solve my carrier’s coverage problems, I must admit my interest in femtocells is revitalized. At a recent CommNexus San Diego SIG focusing on “Femto Services” I got a glimpse into the future and like what I see. If femtocells live up to expectations it could become the link between your mobile phone and embedded wireless devices in your home such as your TV, HVAC, and utilities. Via a femtocell, you will be able to remotely communicate with your house to manage every embedded device such as turning on the oven, or responding to a SMS reminding you that you left the lights on. There will also be presence enabled capabilities that detect your phone as you walk through the door and immediately turn on the TV, air conditioner and appropriate lights as you move throughout the house. In addition to knowing when your kids are home because their phone comes within range of the femto, you can also leave them a “digital post-it note” reminding them to clean their room as soon as they get home.

There are several devices vying to be the hub of the future digital home but unless those devices connect to your smart phone then they won’t work. I can see a combination Femto/Wi-Fi device controlling those connections in our future homes where we live just like the Jetsons.

The Perfect Storm for Wireless Operators


According to Wikipedia a “perfect storm” is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.” The term gained popularity when George Clooney stared in a film called The Perfect Storm (based on the book by Sebastian Junger of the same name) about the 1991 Halloween Nor’easter in which three weather conditions combined to generate a perfectly fierce and deadly situation:

• warm air from a low-pressure system coming from one direction,
• a flow of cool and dry air generated by a high pressure from another direction, and
• tropical moisture provided by Hurricane Grace.

Today in both Europe and North America, the wireless industry shows its own combination of circumstances which could create a future perfect storm:

market saturation – it is estimated that 85-90% of Americans own a cell phone and the number in many European countries are estimated to be at or over 100%,
cheaper “all-you-can-eat” rate plans – in the USA, all of the four major carriers offer voice/data plans for $99/month and Metro PCS offers voice plans for as low as $50/month, and
increasing OPEX – the two largest expenses for wireless carriers are payroll and rent roll and both are inflating.

It doesn’t take a meteorologist to forecast enormous pressure on cellular operating margins. And it is safe to assume that cellular operators have and will continue to focus on this issue.

On the revenue side of the equation, operators will battle it out for the final 10-15% of market share, and operators will continue to search for more ways to increase ARPU by adding cool apps and services as well as introducing cooler handsets to encourage subscribers to remain loyal and/or switch to their service. The iPhone/Blackberry battle is the classic example of this.

On the expense side, these conditions place pressure on payroll and rent roll and operators are looking for ways to lower OPEX. Expect to see more outsourcing and tighter cost controls. Also expect to see more rigorous scrutiny applied to lease costs. With annual rent rolls in the billions, operators will be keeping a close eye on the rent expense.

Wireless Healthcare – It is Great to Work in Wireless!

CommNexus of San Diego joined with CTIA, West Wireless Health Institute and Qualcomm last night to host a panel discussion on Wireless Healthcare at the impressive Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall in San Diego.  While the panel’s discussion was not directly related to cell sites and cellular antenna leases, it was very interesting take a peek into our future to see the impact that the wireless industry will have on global healthcare.  The panel included a trio of fore-thinkers from the West Wireless Health Institute including its founder, philanthropist Gary West

West noted that by 2020 there will be major shortage of doctors to treat the rapidly aging population in the USA and that wireless monitoring of patients will significantly reduce the number of office visits.  Key vitals can be remotely monitored with the data being transferred and managed electronically whereby patients only come to see a doctor if their results are outside the norm.  Imagine it… not only implantable devices like pace-makers and heart monitors, but also wearable devices such as portable ventilators with wireless capability and even digestible devices.  The panel noted that this will lead to not only wireless monitoring but remote analytics and predictive modeling to forecast health issues before they occur. 

Additionally, the panel made the point that growth in this area will be consumer driven, rather than doctor or prescription driven as patients will most likely choose to purchase their monitoring devices as a preventative measure rather than waiting for their doctor to prescribe one for treatment. 

This is all pretty cool stuff!  While many of these devices will be Bluetooth based, I can still see a much greater need for cell sites as dropped connections will now become a liability – you don’t want to be the network that caused a person to die because the transmission of a patient’s vitals did not make it through to the doctor.  While my job of negotiating, documenting and administiring cellular antenna leases is not as sexy as developing wireless devices that will save future lives, I am proud to play a small part in maintaining the infrastructure that many of these devices will operate on.  I say it is great to be part of an industry that will revolutionize health care not only in the USA, but worldwide.

Discussing Cellular Leases at PCIA 2009

In my first Opinion Pole blog I commented that PCIA 2008 in Hollywood, Florida was silent on cellular leases – not the site acquisition process itself, but on the actual leases documents and what can be done to improve them for the betterment of the entire industry.  Well I am happy to note herein that PICA 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee was better.  The company I work for (Md7, LLC) pushed the topic and began driving the conversations a bit more than usual this year.  While it is not my goal to turn this blog into a promotion for my company, it was through the presence of Md7 on two panels and hosting a hospitality suite that we were able to have several public and private conversations about leases and how to make them better.

My colleagues, Thomas Dolislager and Sudeep Gupta both participated on panels in which improved leases were at least part of the conversation.  Thomas’ panel was called “Outsourcing to Experts: How to Reap the Benefits” and was sponsored by Message Center Management.  The biggest take away from this discussion was to trust experts and select specialists who do one or two things really well.  Lease documentation is no exception.  While lease negotiations and preparations have long been entrusted to site acquisition companies and law firms, I do see a trend to concentrate in this area even further. 

Meanwhile, Sudeep participated on a panel called “Innovative Strategies for Reducing Network OpEx” where he raised the very valid point that over time the single biggest cost of operating a cell site is the rent expense.  Monthly rent that escalates each year will eventually outweigh the cost of base stations, zoning, maintenance and even construction.  So if rent is in fact the largest expense, then it makes sense to concentrate on managing it and making the documents themselves more efficient and standard.   
While not everyone agrees with me that there is a LOT of room for improvement in the hundreds-of-thousands of cellular lease documents currently in existence in the United States and abroad, most agree that rents are high and leases have to be negotiated and renegotiated multiple times – especially each time and upgrade is made to a cell site.  Let’s find ways to improve this process.

The Silence Is Broken

In the middle of the 2008 PCIA show in Hollywood, Florida I asked Dustin Cahill who works with me at Md7 if he heard anything and with a strange look on his face he shook his head and said “I don’t hear anything.”  To which I responded “Exactly!”  He thought I was crazy, but I was making a point – the wireless infrastructure show (and the wireless industry as a whole) was noticeably silent on my favorite professional topic – cellular leases and how to how to improve them.

Oh, there is always plenty of talk about site acquisition, zoning problems, and regulatory issues.  That is the same ole stuff.  In 2008 I also heard a lot of talk about DAS, “drop and swaps” and of course the “Titans of Tower” hour was very interesting.   But no one was talking about the leases themselves.  Things like: What are the key terms in a good lease? How can these key terms be improved?  Can we bag CPI escalators forever? And the all important one our industry seems to never openly discuss, why are rents so high and what can be done about it?

I have committed the last five years of my career to these very questions and had some very interesting conversations – some positive and some not.  Some people liked what I was saying and some told me I was crazy – some even hurled a few personal insults.  But seriously, we need to be talking about this topic and others.

It took me several months since that inspirational moment in South Florida last year to figure out Web 2.0, social networking, tweeting, connecting, making Facebook friends and the hardest of all – WordPress. But you are reading the result; my first blog!  This is the introduction of my contribution to sharing information among wireless industry players to encourage what I call “mutually beneficial outcomes.”

I’ll try not to be narcissistic in here.  I am not blogging to change the world, self-promote or generate business for myself.  I simply would like to engage in legitimate, interesting, respectful conversation and make acquaintances within the wireless industry – whether we agree or not.  Let’s call it stimulating professional conversation.

So, I hope you’ll enjoy the Opinion Pole and check back in regularly.  I look forward to chatting with you!