How Has the Smartphone Changed Your Life? (My Ten Favorite Apps)

Did you see theapps-800x380 “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.”

Md7 is Built for the Current Data Explosion

MD7 – THE EARLY YEARS

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.

CENTRALIZED EFFICIENCY, LOCALIZED KNOW-HOW

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).

WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE – THE FUTURE

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

blog_densification_2014_101

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.