Jonathan Adelstein is a former FCC commissioner and was head of the Wireless Infrastructure Association for 10 years. He’s now heading global policy and public investment for the investing firm DigitalBridge.

DigitalBridge also owns the tower companies Vertical Bridge and Vantage Tower. And it owns the small cell companies ExteNet and Boingo, as well as the fiber company Zayo, among other assets.

Adelstein spoke with Fierce Wireless at last week’s MWC conference about the deployment of 5G in the U.S. He said operators are deploying 5G on macros as rapidly and as widely as possible. In T-Mobile’s case it’s for 2.5 GHz spectrum, and for Verizon and AT&T it’s for their recently acquired C-band spectrum.

He said many of the deployments are happening on existing macros.

“Small cells take a little backseat to macros,” said Adelstein. “At the end of 2023, beginning of 2024 we’ll see more activity on small cells when we get to the need for more infill.”

In 2014 the FCC created new regulations for expediting the deployment of small cells under Section 6409 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

Adelstein said the rules implemented in 2014 also allow operators to expand equipment in their macro tower compounds without having to go through additional zoning. He said this has been especially helpful lately for Dish Wireless, which sometimes wants to add open RAN equipment at the bottom of existing macro towers.

“Section 6409 has helped Dish enormously,” said Adelstein. “It allows colocation of reasonably-sized equipment on existing infrastructure. Dish was able to colocate immediately without having to go through zoning.”

Tower business outlook

In May at the Connect(X) show in Denver, a panel of tower executives was optimistic about their business outlooks even though the stock market was on a decline

Since then, the market has dropped even further. But Adelstein said the tower business itself is very solid. “The credit tenants aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “They’re going to keep their leases because they’re adding capacity, not taking it away.” He said bigger, stronger investment companies such as DigitalBridge can actually benefit during downturns, but it can be challenging for smaller companies if they haven’t planned well.

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