How towercos are fighting “The Big Squeeze"
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How towercos are fighting “The Big Squeeze"


TowerXchange Americas 2024 Industry leaders discussed how Latin American towercos are facing the financial pressures by mobile network operators.

In the heart of Miami, FL, at the TowerXchange Meetup Americas 2024, industry leaders from SBA Communications, Phoenix Tower International, Torrecom and the Colombian Communication Commission converged for our opening panel discussion: "Forging a collaborative future for carriers, towercos, and government" offering unique perspectives on the telecom tower landscape across Latin America.

Over two days, nearly 200 participants gathered at the TowerXchange Meetup Americas to address industry challenges and opportunities. Discussions focused on renewable energy solutions, improving collaboration in telecom infrastructure, 5G network deployment, the future of small cell technology, and using artificial intelligence to optimise tower operations and foster cooperation with operators and government.

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Customer-centric approaches for towercos

How carriers are urging towercos to become more customer centric? Maria Scotti, CEO of Torrecom highlighted the company proactive approach in supporting carriers beyond traditional procurement. "For years, we’ve been involved in working with carriers using our own balance sheet, helping them with equipment and electricity. This collaboration has fostered a unique relationship, turning us into a valuable partner for carriers." This hands-on support demonstrates towercos' evolving role in directly contributing to carriers' operational needs. She added, "You develop a different relationship with the carrier. It becomes a prize because they value your ability to do so."

Scotti underscored the importance of enhanced regulatory cooperation, using the United States as a prime illustration. She pointed out that in the US, carriers frequently must demonstrate coverage necessity and conduct RF testing. While carriers are directly visible to consumers, there is a lack of public understanding regarding how coverage is provided. People often use their wireless connectivity to photograph and lodge complaints online tower constructions, yet information remains inaccessible, and carriers are not required to disclose their needs to obtain permits. There are clear communication challenges in permitting procedures and a necessity for improved public awareness and regulatory assistance.

Addressing points of friction and tackling challenges

In the face of escalating challenges such as rising interest rates and the cost of capital, alongside increased energy expenses and stagnant ARPUs (Average Revenue Per User), identifying and resolving points of friction is crucial in the industry. Richard Cane, President-International, SBA Communications, acknowledged the financial pressures faced by Mobile Network Operators, referring to it as the "Big Squeeze." emphasising the role of independent towercos in supporting MNOs with a model that revolves around shared infrastructure, offering power, security, and alternative energy solutions. Working closely with operators to understand and meet their needs is crucial in combating the Big Squeeze.

This international perspective underscores the global nature of the challenges faced by the telecommunications sector. Hermes Figueroa, Senior Sales Director CALA, Phoenix Tower International continued highlighting the importance of collaboration to mitigate these challenges: "MNOs are often focused on cost reductions, making it difficult to explore new partnerships. We can alleviate this by sharing infrastructure, introducing energy innovations, expanding service portfolios, and providing additional value in unexplored areas." Figueroa also stressed the crucial role of government understanding in supporting the industry: "It cannot be clearer to the government the importance of the industry to the marketplace. We support landlords, employees, and the supply chain directly.” Focusing narrowly on towerco leases and structures misses the larger impact they have right across the value chain with a nationwide geographic scope.

Cane also highlighted successful regulatory frameworks in Brazil, praising Abrintel's (Brazilian Association of Infrastructure and Communications) efforts: "I would like to salute Abrintel in Brazil, where we have had good outcomes in improving regulation, much like we have with the Chamber of Commerce here in the United States."

Streamlining permitting processes through collaboration

Claudia Ximena Bustamante, Communications Commissioner, Colombian Commission of Communications (CRC) brought a regulatory perspective to the discussion, stressing the need for better understanding between towercos, MNOs, and regulators in the Latin American region.

"Regulators can play a bigger role by working with communities to educate them about the benefits of network development. Sometimes, communities are wary of private companies, but they need these services. Government collaboration can help bridge this gap." Bustamante emphasised the trend of MNOs transferring infrastructure to towercos, which she deemed a key element in expanding coverage and closing the digital gap.

From a government perspective, achieving broader coverage, better service, and closing the digital gap is possible through infrastructure deployment. Tower companies and mobile network operators need a better grasp of local needs, and governments should not be involved in their negotiations.

Currently permitting processes can take up to a year and pose challenges for service provision. The central government is working with main capital city authorities to address this issue and there is hope that new governments this year will understand the importance of speeding up the permit issuance process.

 Health and safety breaches

Streamlining permitting processes not only improves operational timelines but also plays a crucial role in upholding rigorous safety standards within the telecommunications industry. Building on these regulatory concerns, Maria Scotti highlighted broader issues affecting health and safety standards within the telecommunications sector in Latin America. "In some regions, the absence of regulatory bodies like OSHA and established industry best practices is concerning," she observed. "Our focus remains on training contractors rigorously to ensure strict adherence to safety protocols," emphasising the critical need for comprehensive regulatory frameworks to safeguard both operational efficiency and employee safety across tower companies in the region.

These insights underscore the ongoing efforts to navigate regulatory challenges while maintaining high standards of safety and operational integrity in the dynamic telecommunications landscape of Latin America, something all panellists agreed was an important focus for future collaboration.

Outlining a shared vision for the future

Currently the telecom tower market is shaping a collective vision for the future of the telecom industry in Latin America. Numerous challenges would be better address collectively than individually, such as retaining industry discipline on deploying parallel infrastructure or building sites close to existing sites merely to re-locate equipment.

Richard Cane highlighted the collaborative ethos of the panel, emphasising how independent towercos contribute positively to expanding, improving, and making mobile connectivity more affordable in the region. Utilising shared infrastructure and innovative solutions, they aim to foster development and address the increasing demand for connectivity. Cane also underscored the critical role of data in optimising network efficiency, noting their use of crowdsourced data to identify gaps, suggest new sites, and explore co-location opportunities. In a great partnership with vHive, SBA Communications employ drones to gather comprehensive tower data, providing operators with insights into network performance.

Maria Scotti further emphasised the importance of evolving partnerships: "Developing a different relationship with carriers, where they value our support beyond procurement, creates a win-win situation. This collaborative approach is essential for future growth." She also warned against the dangers of substandard infrastructure, stating, "Parallel infrastructure and single tenancy towers create a permitting backlash, destroying value in the long run. The quality of that infrastructure is poor because they’re cutting corners. It’s a short-term win for a small company and bad for everyone else."

Building on the theme of industry adaptation, Hermes Figueroa highlighted the need for technological innovation to address industry challenges: "The technology is pushing innovation. Stuff that worked five years ago no longer works. Now you need poles or sharing new infrastructure. We need to allow towercos to help." He also stressed the significance of diversifying service offerings to venture into untapped markets, aiming to deliver added value beyond current areas of focus.

Claudia Bustamante echoed the call for increased collaboration, particularly between towercos and government entities in regulatory processes, "We need to know the challenges you are having and how we can work together to solve problems." highlighting the current imbalance where regulatory consultations predominantly involve mobile network operators (MNOs), sidelining input from towercos and other parts of the supply chain. Bustamante emphasised the need for inclusive participation to ensure that new regulations consider the perspectives and challenges of all stakeholders. This is crucial for fostering a regulatory environment that supports industry growth and innovation.

Commenting on the earlier discussion, Alejandro Silvestre, Regional Manager at Telecom Argentina, later highlighted the significance of collaboration with tower companies and government. Having invested US$300mn in 5G spectrum acquisition last year, Telecom Argentina is actively deploying infrastructure to keep pace with regional advancements. They have already activated numerous 5G sites and plan to expand further by leveraging existing infrastructure. Alejandro emphasised that partnering closely with tower providers and government bodies is crucial to efficiently expand their network coverage and ensure the successful rollout of advanced telecommunications services across Argentina. This collaboration facilitates streamlined regulatory processes, optimises site deployment, and enhances overall service delivery to meet growing consumer demands effectively.

Similarly, Telecall, a telecommunications company with operations in Brazil, the United States, Portugal, and England, is embarking on its entry into the Colombian market with a planned investment of US$100mn. CEO Allan Kellman Ajuz highlighted the crucial role of collaboration in driving the operational deployment of comprehensive digital networks. This involves forging partnerships with governmental bodies, tower providers, and third-party service providers to ensure the efficient construction and expansion of their network infrastructure.


Industry discussions are increasing highlighting the need for collaboration among carriers, towercos, and government regulators. By becoming more customer-centric, addressing points of friction, streamlining permitting processes, and outlining a shared vision, the telecom tower industry can navigate the challenges ahead and seize opportunities for growth and innovation in Latin America. The insights and strategies discussed set a promising foundation for the industry's future, highlighting the power of cooperation and shared goals in driving progress.

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